Read something the other day I thought would make a great graduation speech. Too bad so many commencement speakers are so full of themselves that they can’t bear to deliver remarks like this. So I’ll take a whack at it. Call it my Speech to the Class of ’11 in Absentia:
Congratulations, graduates. You now depart campus and enter the world of your chosen profession. Assuming, of course, you can find a job there. But, I digress. These remarks are supposed to give inspiration to you, not indigestion to your parents.
Anyway, there’s some talk today that colleges are failing to instill the attitudes and training necessary for success in the working world. At least according to an Op-Ed in the New York Times recently. And we hear this regularly today elsewhere. Nonsense, I say. This has never been, nor should it be, the purpose of higher education. As far as the attitudes necessary for success in life, I say that they were supposed to have been instilled in you long before you arrived on campus. Long before you even took your SAT.
This instillation should have happened at home as you were growing up, not during some indoctrination as a young adult. It was the guidance your mother and father gave you at every turn. Especially mom. It would have gone something like this:
Share with others. Yes, mom was probably referring to toys and ice cream, but think about it. Leadership and success have a lot to do with the sharing of ideas, information, tips, suggestions, and all that creates enthusiasm, positive energy, goodwill and inspiration. Esprit de corps. Departments and groups and organizations that share stuff amongst themselves, especially the credit for jobs well done, tend to be more spirited, better focused and more productive. This is what is meant by the effective organization.
Plan ahead. Most moms I’ve known frowned on procrastination. They also wanted you to think about the consequences of your actions. Moms don’t like aimless drifting. Same thing goes for life as an adult. Most good things don’t just happen to us by a random act of the universe. They are the result of specific actions we’ve taken to make them happen. We fail to make good things happen to the extent that we fail to plan for them. “If you fail to plan you’re planning to fail” might sound corny but, boy, is it true.
Remember the Golden Rule. If there is a key to well-being it is this. Make a habit of being respectful to your customers, friends, employees, colleagues, bosses, clients, retail clerks, roommates, lovers, ticket agents, hotel maids, bus drivers, and everybody else with whom you transact and it will inevitably be returned to you most of the time. It’s good business. In every transaction, no matter how trivial it may seem, ask yourself: How would I like to be treated if I were on the other side of this?
Stay in touch. Your mom never failed to let you know when too much time had passed between calls or texts. She wants to hear from you. So, too, never ignore your colleagues, your superiors, your customers, clients and partners. The people who matter in your world. Stay in contact. Reach out. Connect. Let your people know you care.
Reserve the right to be smarter tomorrow than you are today. I’ll bet your mom encouraged you to be open-minded and tolerant of others who may have been different. In the same way, being open to new ideas and trends is fundamental to creativity, innovation and adaptation in world of perpetual, not to mention accelerating, change. It’s also the trait that most clearly differentiates the best run organizations from the other kind.
Stay up-to-date with current events. This is how you stay on top of trends and developments. It’s key to making better decisions, especially ones having to do with planning. Understanding what’s currently happening in your field will make you a more intelligent practitioner of whatever you do. The better informed you are, the more effective you are as an employee or a citizen.
Tell the truth. Your mom was a stickler here, with zero tolerance. In the business world or anywhere else, even half-truths can be as corrosive as lies themselves. Whatever misleads and undermines spells ultimate doom, sooner or later, for the deceiver. Particularly in this increasingly online world, transparency is key to sustained success. In that world, trust is currency. If you don’t have it, you won’t survive. Untruthful is the essence of uncool.
Admit mistakes. Above all, don’t cover up. We’ve all heard the truism, “The coverup was worse than the crime”. Why do you think it became a truism?
“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again”. Parents, especially moms, are notorious for encouragement. It’s right in the job description. But it’s absolutely, positively, almost mystically true: you will fail. If you don’t, you haven’t stretched yourself and you will not grow. Failure is not in failing to succeed. It’s in failing to try. And try again. And again and again.
Good luck. And congratulations to your parents!