Real estate investor and EagleBank chief executive Ron Paul was the December 2014 commencement speaker before the graduating class of the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland. What follows are excerpts from his remarks.
In my business dealings and in my personal and civic life, I always look for the differentiator. At EagleBank, when I look at our employees, I hone in on what distinguishes one colleague from another. Those who are truly successful share a single trait. In one word, it’s leadership.
Running two businesses, and being involved in many more, I see that differentiator time and time again between those at the top of their game and the rest. If you are a leader, you will be successful in business, at home and in the community. Have the guts to stand up for what you believe, speak your mind — respectfully but confidently — to others and go make a difference. Have the flame in you.
How can you become a leader? Every day I think of six characteristics that are the differentiator:
1. Don’t just show up. In life and in your career, don’t just show up. Come to play, and play to win. If you come and punch a clock, you’ll have a job. But if you want a career, you need to be emotionally committed and fully dedicated.
2. Develop and build relationships. You have a long life and career ahead of you. Don’t go it alone. As you interact with others, you may find someone — or someones — who will become your mentors. My biggest career changer occurred right here on campus. A mentor ended up being my employer, and my introduction to real estate and finance. Benefit from mentors and one day, mentor others.
3. Take ownership. In your career, in your marriage, take ownership. Accept responsibility and accountability. Just as you should be an active participant at work, you should do so as if you are the owner of the business and not just an employee. Think about issues. Voice opinions. Make things happen. Carry a strong work ethic, core values and try everyday to be a valuable contributor. If these are qualities that you can develop, the world is at your doorstep.
4. Become an expert. In today’s ever-changing world, there is only so far you can go as a generalist. It’s okay to start with a clean slate, but have a path toward developing an expertise. Tom Rath said, “If you spend your life trying to be good at everything, you will never be great at anything.” Expertise, and experience with that expertise, is what will distinguish you from others.
5. Think like – and become – a leader. If I have but one secret to share with you, it is this. Whether in your career, your place of worship, a civic organization or your family, step up and be the leader. Not just a leader, the leader. It’s not enough to just show up. It’s not enough to just think like an owner. Whether you are an employee or you have your own company, think like and become the leader.
Develop a vision. Then rally others around you. A big part of leadership involves effective communication. It is not just creating the vision, but being able to impart it to others so that they share it and hunger to implement it. “Leadership,” said John Maxwell, “is not about titles, positions or flowcharts. It is about one life influencing another.”
One attribute that fosters effective leadership is passion. If your enthusiasm and drive is contagious, if it is recognized and embraced by others, your goals will be that much easier to achieve.
6. Don’t just do well in life. Do good. Live a life worth living. Some of the most satisfying accomplishments I have had are from my work with charities and community organizations.
I’m involved in a host of organizations. Some raise funds for important causes. Others try to influence policy or boost a community. Pick organizations that touch you, and get involved. That doesn’t mean just write a check. I mean get involved. Serve on boards, chair events. Give back to the community. And I assure you, you will get even more out of it than the organization will.
A final thought:
Your most important asset appears at the top of your financial statement, not in it: Your name. When all is said and done, your reputation is what you have. Every loan request at EagleBank gets underwritten. We analyze every asset and liability, every contingent liability, every thing good and bad that has happened. But rest assured, our most important underwriting is done on the person herself. Your character, the value of your word, the motive behind each deed ... That is what defines you.
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