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Lillian Cunningham

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Alan M. Webber

Alan Webber, a founding editor of Fast Company magazine, is an award-winning editor, author and columnist. His most recent book is Rules of Thumb: 52 Truths for Winning at Business Without Losing Yourself.
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Do something—in fact, everything—on purpose

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.

Dear students!

Congratulations on your graduation—now comes the tough part! You will hear today, and maybe for a few days more, how you are the future leaders of America. Or of the world. Or of something.

You will be told that you have a responsibility to be leaders. That what the world needs more than ever are leaders. That we suffer from a lack of leadership. That with your education, your values, your ability to apply social media, your global vision, your youthful idealism, you will be the next generation of leaders!

Now. Listen. Very. Carefully.

Pay no attention to any of that. That is what we call hogwash.

In fact, using your technological dexterity that you've gained through endless Twittering and Facebooking and video-game-playing, here’s what I want you to do: Go into your settings for whatever word processing software you use. Locate the “find and replace” category. Under “find” I want you to type in “leader” and “leadership.” Under “replace” I want you to type in “purpose.”Got it?

Now, every time some old, well-intentioned fuddy-duddy uses the words “lead” or “leadership,” you will automatically hear “purpose.”

Because that's what really matters. Purpose. Finding your purpose, working on purpose, following a path toward a clear purpose. Everything else is a load of flap-doodle.

When you get out of here, like in 15 minutes, you’re going to be on your own. No requirements. No grades. No advisers.Your new job is to find your purpose.

It's okay if you don’t know yet. In that case, think about what matters to you. Think about what gets you up in the morning, ready to do something that might make a difference. Think about organizations you admire because they have a clear and guiding purpose. Go join one of those organizations. See if their purpose aligns with your purpose. Spend time with people who seem to have a clear purpose, a way of working and being that connects the dots in a way that makes sense. Look for clues that might suggest what your own purpose might be. But don’t worry and don’t panic if it doesn’t seem to come to you all at once. A purpose too easily found is hardly worth the search.

So that’s it. You’re not leaders. You’re not the next generation of leaders, you're not the ones we've been waiting for. You're just like all the rest of us. You're out there in a world that is badly in need of people and organizations that have a genuine purpose. Go look for yours, go help others find theirs, go work with people and organizations that have theirs.

If you want to leave here with something worth doing, do it on purpose.

Thanks. Now go have some fun—also on purpose.

View all panel responses to our discussion about the best words of wisdom to give this year’s graduates. Here are some of them:

Marie Wilson: Help a country hungry for its heart

Angel Cabrera: Do good!

Juana Bordas: Transform your community

John Baldoni: Believe in what you can achieve

George Reed: Care enough to lead

Amy Fraher: Commit to ethical thinking

Carol Goman: Rewire your brain

Alan Webber  | May 2, 2011 6:15 PM

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