Exploring Leadership in the News with Steven Pearlstein and Raju Narisetti

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Jena McGregor

Jena McGregor

Staff writer Jena McGregor teases out the leadership issues in the day’s news.

Tom Fox

Tom Fox

Guest contributor Tom Fox, of the Partnership for Public Service, writes weekly about issues in the federal workplace.

Lillian Cunningham

Lillian Cunningham

Lillian Cunningham is the editor of On Leadership and writes features for the section.

Interview people you admire

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.

I know you’re getting LOTs of advice from older folks on how to get ahead, market yourself, figure out what you want to do, succeed in your career. And you’re probably a bit numb from all that good advice. Knowing that, I’ll give you JUST ONE suggestion, one that has helped many people who were transitioning from one career or stage of their life to another.

I strongly recommend that you interview several people who you admire and look up to. Play Scott Pelley or Steve Kroft (60 Minutes anchors), and ask these people questions that will get them to tell you about their lives, their regrets, what they love about their lives and their work, what they would change if they could, what are their current hopes and dreams. Some of the people you talk to should be working in a line of work you are considering for yourself. By getting these firsthand and very personal impressions, you’ll gain a real-world perspective—the good, the bad, the ugly about what you are considering for yourself—whether that be working in a non-profit, being an attorney, a professor, a financial analyst, an entrepreneur, a nurse, engineer, in health care, whatever.

Perhaps more importantly, these interviews will help you with your own values clarification. Pay attention to the things that make this other person tick, and whether those are the things that make you tick. Knowing what is important to you, what is really important to you, will help you navigate some of the challenging and fascinating choices you have ahead.

These interviews will teach you many things, some subtle, some not so subtle. But one thing you will learn is that people and relationships will be the most important determinant of your future happiness. The people you work with will be the most interesting, the most frustrating, the most complex aspect of whatever you choose to do.  This will be true whether you are working in the trenches or in a leadership/management position. So begin by talking to people and learning to listen to their stories, and seek to understand. I promise you, you will be surprised.

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

Alan Webber: Do everything on purpose

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

Bob Schoultz  | May 12, 2011 10:05 AM

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