I was asked to be the keynote speaker for the Golden Key Regional Summit which was held at Oklahoma State University this year. Any topic of my choice so I chose “potential”. At the request of the committee I included some of my comments from a previous speech but the first half is all new thoughts. For those of you interested, my comments:
First let me welcome you to Stillwater Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University and thank you for having me tonight.
A few months ago I became an honorary member of the Golden Key Hounoure Society.
I was one of two inducted this year at Oklahoma State University, the other being Dr. K.D. Berlin who, among other achievements, led a team to develop new treatments for a variety of cancers, particularly ovarian and cervical cancers
Me? I help people talk pretty so, needless to say, I was very humbled to share the stage.
I will admit that helping people talk pretty is an understatement especially when I consider some of the great leaders in my industry of strategic communications. On the grand scale I/we help organizations achieve success through thought, word and deed. I remind them, as I will remind you this evening that all those elements – thought, word and deed – must support your objectives – what you are truly trying to accomplish. Otherwise it’s just a lot of thinking, talking and doing with no real value.
I was asked to speak tonight to help kick things off, to energize and motivate you and time allowing tips on how to make the most of this conference. I also have some tips for after you leave.
Before I begin I want to talk about you for a moment. Golden Key is the world’s premier collegiate honor society. You are the elite of the elite. You have been invited into this organization which is a gift. There are others in the world with as much God given talent but they aren’t here. There is something which has held them back, some element possibly out of their control which stopped them from being invited into such an awesome organization and being given the opportunity to be here at this conference. That is why your presence here should be considered a gift – circumstance and opportunity were in your favor and so here you are.
I am always reminded by my wife and even my mom (yes, my mom – even at 42 you never stop being a son or daughter) that to whom much is given much is expected in return. This is a huge responsibility and one that should not be taken lightly so I hope you wont.
Golden Key’s Mission is to enable members to realize their potential. As a member, this should also be your mission – to realize your potential.
Let’s talk about why you are here. You are here to develop your leadership skills and to get ideas, renew enthusiasm and to collaborate. By the way, your actions to be here are simply a tactical step toward achieving your potential. Going to every session in and of itself won’t help you accomplish that. It is what you do with the knowledge and experience gained from these sessions that will move you toward achieving your potential.
True achievements in life come from something deeper than mere actions such as being inducted into an honor society and attending conferences. They come from additional efforts and new ways of doing “things” which create a mindset, knowledge and ultimately wisdom.
By embracing not only the opportunities that are afforded to you but also truly engaging in the experiences, discussing, challenging, debating you will build knowledge, yours as well those around you. Hopefully through this engagement of knowledge you will create a viable wisdom. Applying and sharing this wisdom to make the world a better place is the moment you will have reached your potential.
So what do you need to do to do today, this weekend and every day hereafter?
Make friends. Network, network and network some more. I will warn you, this isn’t a numbers game. It doesn’t matter if you have 100, 1,000 or 1 M friends on your Facebook page or followers on your Twitter account. I remind people that in social media size matters, inversely. Simply put, when you are friends with everyone, you run the risk of being friends with no one. What matters online and in real life are the relationships and the depth of those relationships. Not just acquaintances or “friends” but meaningful relationships. What would they do for you in a time of need and what would you be willing to do for them?
You might be thinking this seems easy and it is pretty easy to make friends with folks who are just like you. And there is huge value to these relationships. But, here is my challenge to you: make friends with those who wouldn’t normally be in your circle. Or at least seek them out and talk to them. We can talk all day long about how great something is, when it is something on which we all agree but that doesn’t move the marker. We haven’t reached a new audience or extended our message, our knowledge or our viewpoint on an issue. To do this we have to jump out of our own echo chamber.
Let me also share some advice which I can’t take credit for. It comes from Stephen Covey, the author of Seven Habits. He says “seek first to understand and then to be understood.” Walk a mile in another person’s shoes; try to understand where they are coming from and how this might affect your perspective. This is sage advice and at times might not be the easiest to heed. However, I would argue that if you follow this advice, you will reap rewards which will be immeasurable.
When we meet others who are not like minded, we tend to participate in conversations where we just share our view point but close ourselves to considering opposing views. This not only leads to conflict in some situations, but also prevents us from growing our knowledge. There is no value to yourself or our society. If you are open – who knows, you might be the one whom is persuaded to think differently.
Finally, as you seek out others, look for those who are more intelligent than you, more artistic than you, more astute than you and learn from them. You will benefit immeasurably and they will appreciate your thanks – so don’t forget to say it.
Take on leadership roles. Stretch yourself and challenge yourself to try new opportunities.
In every organization, there are all types of positions for all types of skill levels and personalities. Know your own strengths, skill sets and limitations. Take on leadership opportunities because you believe you are a good leader and are willing to do the hard work necessary to be an effective leader. Don’t take on those roles just because it would look good on your resume, because you were asked or because it is an ego boost. Good effective leadership is hard work and traditional leadership roles aren’t for everyone.
Remember also there are amazing people in this world who may not be considered typical leaders but who have made an enormous impact on the lives of others. A few examples: Mother Theresa, Randy Pausch a professor from MIT who continued to teach while dying from cancer. You may recognize the book he wrote, “The Last Lecture”. Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, and I would be remiss not to mention each and every Olympic athlete. These people not only had the courage to face adversity but also inspired others to do the same. That is a form of leadership in and of itself. You don’t have to be president of an organization to be a leader or make a difference – you just have to work hard and leave the world a better place than you found it.
This leads me to my next point.
Leave a legacy everywhere you go. Leave everything you touch a bit better than the way you found it.
Give back to your community. Each and every one of us is fortunate. I’m not saying that we have all led picture perfect lives without adversity, with an endless supply of cash and have never had to work hard a day in our lives. However, we all have had people in our lives who encouraged, supported and loved us, and we have had opportunities that many other people have not had. For that reason, we have a personal responsibility to give back and I challenge each of you to do just that.
The greatest legacy you can leave your community or organization to which you belong such as Golden Key or your college or worthy cause is volunteering your time. This is your chance to pay it forward and give back to those who aren’t as fortunate.
Don’t judge – not much more to say on this topic.
Work is hard and not always fun – I remember lying on a couch as a young man and telling my mom I didn’t want to go to work one day because it wasn’t fun. She told me, in only a tone a mother can have, that work wasn’t fun. If it was fun we would get up every day and say, “I’m going to fun today, see you when I get home.” Regardless, work hard and strive for excellence even if the going gets tough. It is very rare anyone reaches their potential when the going is easy.
Readers are leaders and leaders are readers – This advice was shared to me by an executive at State Farm Insurance where I started my corporate life. As I looked around the offices of those I admired both professionally and personally, I noticed the large number of books in each of their offices and the fact that they weren’t perched on a shelf but were sitting on their desks. Every day those people spent time reading and making notes.
We live in a society which scans. Our newest communication devices demand it. But scanning, as we know, has no depth and if you scan neither will you.
While you are looking for books, look up the name Peter Drucker. His philosophy and his words are timeless and now more than ever resonate in the real world. If I had to generalize one of his most important contributions to the business world, it is that making the world a better place is a viable business model.
Be business savvy, understand how businesses work – It doesn’t matter what profession you are in, whether you are a chemist, a professor or employee of a large corporation, business will dominate your every move. So understand it so that it can work to your advantage.
Regarding your future – look to the future to find your future. Meaning – don’t focus on what is happening right now, focus on what is about to happen in the future of your degree or industry you want to work in. Read what industry leaders say the future will be. They are right because they are normally the ones who are defining the future. A side benefit to focusing on the future is that the candidate pool is much smaller than it is in an area everyone is focused and therefore it affords more opportunity.
Use good judgment and don’t judge others.
I am near the end so let me recap.
Develop your skills
Meet new people and diversify
Listen, engage, repeat as necessary
Know yourself and find your place
Look to the future.
I didn’t mention this but it is equally important. Have fun!
And now my final piece of advice, which I shared at my induction and was asked to share here, involves an indecisive squirrel which I will tell you now the outcome isn’t in favor of the squirrel. I was driving down a virtually empty road with one of my colleague and now best friends and a squirrel started to cross. It got about half way and as I sped toward it I new it would make it across if I hit the brakes which I did. He wasn’t so sure and turned around but about half way back he decided to try to make it across after all and promptly turned around again and made its way back across my path. Even with my effort to slow down I ran over the squirrel – there was nothing I could do. Had he followed is first inclination, to cross the road, he would have survived but he was indecisive. The lesson from this is simply and probably obvious. In life don’t be the indecisive squirrel for he is the one which always gets run over.