Values Based Leadership: Secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Speaks to Maxwell Students, Faculty and Staff at Syracuse University

Robert McDonaldThe Maxwell Auditorium was standing room only on Wednesday for remarks by Hon. Robert A. McDonald, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The former CEO of Procter & Gamble and U.S. Army veteran discussed “Values Based Leadership,” applying the lessons of his distinguished career across the public and private sectors to transform the veteran experience.

Attendees of the event, which was organized by Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF), included students of the Maxwell School’s MPA and Executive MPA programs, African students participating in the six-week Mandela Washington Fellowship program, faculty, staff and other members of the school community. 

In his remarks, McDonald stressed the importance of developing a personal set of leadership beliefs, before describing his own eight beliefs and how his approach is moving the VA away from being a rules-based organization. “We should be focused on the mission—taking care of veterans—focused on these values, and not be rules-based but principals-based.”

McDonald’s advice ranged from his views on the qualities of good leaders—including knowing one’s own purpose and aligning with an organization that shares that purpose, putting the good of the organization over individual ambitions, and taking personal responsibility—to practical strategies for encouraging the best from others.

“Everybody wants to succeed, nobody wants to fail,” he said. “Purposefully plan your day to try to catch people succeeding… and turn those small tasks, and small measures of success, into bigger tasks and even greater successes.”


McDonald also discussed both the values and challenges of leading a diverse organization. “Diverse groups of people are more innovative than homogenous groups,” he said. “Innovation is the way you improve lives.”

But, he added, “If you are running a diverse organization, the Golden Rule is not good enough…. If I’m running a diverse organization, and I treat everyone the way I want to be treated, I’m treating everybody like a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant from Gary, Indiana… If you are running a global organization of people around the world, you need a Platinum Rule: Treat other people the way they want to be treated.”

McDonald was introduced by J. Michael Haynie, Executive Director of the IVMF, and Vice Chancellor of Syracuse University responsible for veteran and military affairs, who said, “There is no better example of selfless commitment to service and citizenship than what Bob is trying to do for veterans.” 07/21/16