Every year I have written a graduation commencement speech. Someday some University somewhere will grant me an honorary doctorate and I will speak before 100’s of graduates. Until then…
“Congratulations, you made it past the hard part. I stand before you having arrived here by years of education, years of laboriously attending to every day’s tasks, to be sure my businesses were successful, my people were happy, and my family was secure. I came up, not through a business path, but blindly stumbling from mistake to failure and back again until all my trials, all my tribulations added up to success. I rose up after seeing a vacuum where leadership was needed, seeing no one able to step before a group of driven people and unite them behind a common vision. I learned to be a leader by working harder, succeeding more, failing more, looking for opportunities, and still never taking my eyes off of my goals.
Now you are in a place to jump into the world of trials and tribulations. You have an opportunity to realize everything you’ve ever dreamed of. Some of you will be complacent to work day to day. Wake, eat, work, sleep and repeat. That is what your life will become and you are looking forward to it, jumping into it with both feet. Well, you’re not the ones I am talking to, so please just sit quietly while I talk to your future overlords.
What will it take for you to lead in this new era? When people are more in tune with their hand-held devices then they are with other people, how will you position yourself to stand apart?
The answer is two-fold: be more of a human being and be more of a robot. Now when I say, be a robot, I’m not talking about R2D2, I’m talking about a Roomba; the robotic vacuum cleaner. You laugh, but let me explain.
The leader of the future must exhibit some “rromba-esque” qualities. A Roomba has its own timeline. It knows when to come on to get its job done and when to sit quietly in wait under the couch. John Quincy Adams said that Patience and perseverance have a magical affect before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish. To lead you have to watch for your opportunities to appear. No starting bell will ring and no teacher will point out the right procedures. You have to patiently wait to execute your plan. The successful leader of this new generation will need patience. And like the robot under the couch, you have to know when to work on your tasks without impeding on someone else. In fact, you will need teams of people to share your vision and work with you. But people will buy into the leader before they buy into the leader’s vision*. You must present your goals and visions with bold clarity, you have to embody the passion that sets others afire. You will have to be able to share with your people the “why” before they will be willing to work on the “what”. While others will be head down over a keyboard, or focused solely on the unreal world of Simm people and simulated situations, you must engage. Your communication skills will be such a valued commodity in a world where people have forgotten how to talk to one another. Be a speaker, be a listener. General Colin Powel expressed it best when he said “Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers, who can cut through argument, debate, and doubt to offer a solution everybody can understand. Powell was a communicator. Though his military was a tech army, he was the leader because he could listen, problem solve and communicate solutions that aligned with the overall vision of his Army. I cannot overemphasize that you need to develop or cultivate interpersonal skills to be a leader. You will need to know people, people beyond a digital interface. You will need to know what motivates and what achieves the opposite. People need to be stimulated, and when a person who lives in the digital non-human world is given a true human emotion it can move mountains. Without it people fade and wither, but with the right leader, the right nourishment, people will see that you care for them, see that your vision is their vision, and you will enhance your productivity and your loyalty.
Like a Roomba, you will need to bounce off of obstacles. Stay on task and not let skeptics, pessimists and the occasional failure get in your way. Stay optimistic, channel your fears and your doubts into passion, let it fuel your ability to innovate and create. It’s likely when someone is tearing you down it’s because they are sad they didn’t take initiative before you did. Listen to your critics, remove the malice and look for the jewel inside. Is there truth to their criticism? Can it lead you to a new way to see your situation? One of the best motivators for a leader to grow or to create is by hearing feedback that they might not feel comfortable with. Some big-shots may find it demeaning to be questioned or advised by a junior colleague but the truly successful leader will look for ideas and solutions wherever they may appear. When they find that jewel, from a critic or a junior, a good leader will always share the credit. John Maxwell said, “A good leader is a person who takes a little more than his share of the blame and a little less than his share of the credit.” Maxwell is a leader, Maxwell is a Roomba.
The world is starved for Roombas. We have messes everywhere and a vacuum of true leadership. The pool from which future leaders will be born is flooded with complacent, factory droids that would rather digitally interact with you than speak to you. There is an increase in the demand for leadership characteristics to be instilled at the earliest of ages, but don’t worry. There is still time for you to become your own potential. There is no doubt that the road ahead of you will demand hard work, strategy, and passion. And NOW is your time to lead. Now is your time to learn from my digital tool example. These tools that make life easier but less human. To lead, to prosper, and to succeed you will need machine like efficiency but human quality. Be the leader we are all looking for, be the creator of new ideas, new strategies. Be everything you can be, and never rest until you realize your vision.
* People buy into the leader before they buy into the vision. —John Maxwell