The inspiration for this comes in celebration of my son Parker’s graduation from Ball State University this weekend. This is one of thousands of graduation exercises for high schools, colleges and universities that will take place across the country in the coming weeks. My focus is on six lessons new leaders will need to learn – but don’t stop reading even if you are far beyond your cap and gown days.
Like most Commencement addresses, here you will find wisdom for everyone, not just the graduates. That is my hope – that you will read these words as a chance to reflect and challenge yourself to use these lessons to improve your leadership skills. I’ll dispense with the opening comments I’d make if were actually giving the speech and get to my six lessons.
Have high expectations of yourself and be humble.
Working to build your confidence and self-assurance is effort well-invested. Personal experience and loads of research show that when we have high expectations and belief in ourselves, we nearly always perform better in the moment (and always will over time). So yes, set your sights high and expect the very best for yourself.
And . . .
Be humble, open and self-aware of your weaknesses and fallibilities as well as your strengths. Remember that self-confidence, when overdone, is cockiness – a trait that won’t often aid you in your efforts to work with others.
Keep a sense of urgency and be willing to wait.
Time is a finite resource. The clock keeps ticking and never stops. For that reason, developing a sense of urgency for getting things done, whether large goals or small tasks, is a consistent trait of top performers. Remember that the time required for a task is often dictated by the time you allot for it.
And . . .
Sometimes rushing isn’t the right answer either. Sometimes we need to stop and think. Stop and let the dust settle. Stop and smell the roses. There are times to let things unfold in their timetable, not ours. Perhaps the legendary coach John Wooden stated this best when he said “Be quick, but don’t hurry.”
Be proud of your accomplishments and give others the credit.
You will accomplish many things worth being proud of, and you should be proud. In fact, recognizing your achievements and allowing yourself to be proud of them bolsters your confidence, which we have already determined is a good thing.
And . . .
No one is an island. All of your accomplishments have contributions large or small from others. When we recognize this we will have a healthier self-image and a gracious spirit. And when we recognize them for their efforts, everyone wins.
Be likable and don’t worry about being liked.
Because you aren’t an island, and because you operate in a world filled with other human beings, you will be far more effective if you are a likable person. Strive to be likable and to find ways to support and be interested in others. Doing this will make your life richer and more successful.
And . . .
Don’t make it your goal to be liked. Making that your intention will lead to bad judgment and bad decisions. Besides, to achieve anything close to what you are capable of will likely lead some to like you less (at best) than you might hope for. You can’t please everyone all of the time and still make a difference for yourself, your business, or your world.
Stand on what you believe and be open to learning more.
Know what you believe in and what your principles are. Having this clear compass will help you make decisions and help you lead others too. Making decisions brings clarity and makes so much of your life easier.
And . . .
See the world in Technicolor, not black and white (because it is). Yes, there are some things in life that are black and white, but it is a relatively small list. Know that list, and then focus on principles rather than absolutes. When you keep your mind open to learning and change, you will be more flexible and adaptable.
When you do these five things you will be a happier, healthier and more productive employee and person. And when you do these things you will set an example and lead others in a positive way, whether you have a job title that “proves” it or not. Taking these five challenges in total leads you to a sixth challenge – a profound truth of life:
Hopefully you notice the creative tension existing in the first five challenges. The most successful people and leaders are always balancing these ideas, and may, like the high-wire walker, lean one way or the other at any given moment. The balance is situational, the balance is in the timing, the balance is a balance. Our job is to remember them as balances, not as something we continually lean too far towards – one direction, or the other.
I hope you take these ideas to heart and put them to work, whether you are 18 or 81. When you do, you will help create a better world for you, those you lead and everyone else.