Question: You've been asked to give a commencement speech to this year's college graduates about their role as future leaders. Give us the two or three key paragraphs from your address.
Leadership begins with a simple choice to care enough to make a difference. It is a choice that involves both the joy of great accomplishment and the ignominy of public failure. Because leaders take on the aspirations of others, they are the focus of our gratitude when we succeed and our disdain when we fail. It is much easier to avoid leadership and stay in the shadows, focused on some technical aspects of organizational life while others make the tough calls and shoulder the burdens of decision. It is far easier to criticize and complain than it is to lead. Perhaps that’s why I have always respected and admired good leadership. I respect those who have the temerity to believe they can change the world and admire the tenacity of those who actually do.
Now when I say the word ‘leadership,’ many of you are thinking about authoritative positions with the titles and power that go with them. When viewed through such a traditional lens leadership is a distant phenomenon, practiced by others you can only imagine. I submit that while it is much easier to lead with the trappings of authority, it is also possible to influence without them. We all have some capacity for leadership, even though we may not be called upon to exercise it all the time. We lead when we set a good example, advocate for a necessary change and garner support from our colleagues. Viewed this way, your opportunities to exercise leadership are frequent.
Standing in your way is a lot of doubt. You might doubt that you are good enough or sense that your preparation is in some way inadequate. Perhaps you have tried to lead in the past and were unsuccessful. That nagging little voice in your head says, “Surely there is someone better than me who will take responsibility,” but the truth is that there isn’t. You are what we have, and we are all depending on you. All you have to do is care enough.
View all panel responses to our discussion about the best words of wisdom to give this year’s graduates. Here are some of them:
George Reed | May 2, 2011 6:15 PM