Below, the 2012 edition of “the speech”:
Congratulations, graduates of the class of ’12!
You now depart campus and enter the world of your chosen profession. Please accept my best wishes for finding a job there. But, I digress. These remarks are supposed to give inspiration to you, not indigestion to your parents.
Right around this time of year, there’s usually talk about the failure of institutions of higher learning to instill the attitudes and training necessary for success in the working world. I take issue with this assertion. In my judgement, this has never been nor should it ever be the purpose of a college degree. As far as the attitudes necessary for success in life, to my way of thinking they were supposed to have been instilled in you many years before you arrived on campus as a wide-eyed freshman.
This instillation should have happened at home as you were growing up, not in a classroom or lecture hall as young adults. What I’m talking about is the guidance your mother and father presumably gave you at every turn. Especially mom. And 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, enthusiasm, energy, goodwill and inspiration. Esprit de corps. Departments and groups and organizations that share 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. Mothers 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. What goes around, especially in business, comes around. Make a habit of being respectful to your customers, friends, employees, colleagues, bosses, clients, retail clerks, ticket agents, hotel maids, bus drivers, and everybody else with whom you transact on any level. It will, most often, be returned to you. 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, bosses, customers, prospects, clients and partners. The people who matter in your world. Stay in contact. Reach out. Connect. Let people know you there and care.
Reserve the right to be smarter tomorrow than you are today. I’ll bet your mom encouraged you to be accepting of others who may have been different. To include them. In the same way, being open to new ideas and trends is fundamental to creativity, innovation and adaptation in a changing world. This happens to be a typical trait of the most admired companies in America, too. For obvious reasons.
Be alert: Where mom might remind you to look both ways before crossing the street, the business equivalent of this admonition would be to 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 technology and planning. Understanding what’s happening in your market will make you a more intelligent practitioner of whatever you do. The better informed you are, the better decisions you’ll make and the more effective you’ll be.
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 outright lies. Whatever misleads and undermines spells doom, sooner or later, for the instigator. Particularly in this increasingly online world, transparency is key to sustained success because trust is currency. If you don’t have it, you won’t survive. In the office, untruthful is another word for “uncool”.
Admit mistakes and, above all, don’t cover up. You’ve heard it said that the cover-up is worse than the misdeed? This became a truism for good reason.
“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again”. Parents, especially moms, are notorious for encouragement. It’s in their job description. But it’s absolutely true that sooner or later you will fail. If you don’t, shame on you. You haven’t reached far enough, 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.
One last thing. It’s not about going out into the world to find yourself. You won’t. What you must do is invent yourself. And, if need be, re-invent yourself throughout your career. And, no, there is no app for that.
Congratulations! Especially to your parents.