It's college graduation season – a time when students are ready to cash in on their years of hard work, dedication and perseverance in exchange for a diploma. What do you say to someone as they're about to cross one of the most important milestones of their lives?
There's a lot of advice floating around out there about how to improve yourself – both personally and professionally. And the internet is certainly not lacking in inspirational sayings or (occasionally incorrectly credited) quotes. But it takes a certain amount of experience and skill to truly master what it means to be a successful leader. Those who have are the people who've managed to overcome difficult hurdles on their pursuit of great accomplishments, gaining a robust following of faithful and trusted fans along the way. And these are also the kind of individuals who get asked to speak at college graduation ceremonies.
Below are quotes from some of the best college graduation speeches that can teach us a thing or two about true leadership.
1. Steve Jobs, Standard University, 2015
"I'm convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You've got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work."
No employee is 100 percent happy all the time. But part of your responsibility as a leader is to make sure you are allowing people to use their skills to excel in areas they are passionate about and where they most thrive. It is important that both you and your staff are truly committed to the work in order to make it meaningful.
2. Shonda Rhimes, Dartmouth College, 2014
"I think a lot of people dream. And while they are busy dreaming, the really happy people, the really successful people, the really interesting, engaged, powerful people, are busy doing."
Wishing and hoping for great things to happen to you is not enough. The most successful leaders are the people who are willing to get in the trenches with their workers and do whatever is needed to get a job done. It takes time, patience and grit to climb to the top of the corporate ladder and it is essential that people understand they must be willing to put in the hard work every step of the way. And even once they move up in the ranks, they are still going to need to spend more time doing than they do dreaming.
"Leaders prioritize learning and development – both for themselves and others."
3. Michelle Obama, Dillard University, 2014
"We know that today, education is still the key to real and lasting freedom — it is still true today. So it is now up to us to cultivate that hunger for education in our own lives and in those around us. And we know that hunger is still out there — we know it."
Learning and development are necessary ingredients to success. As a leader, it is crucial that you are constantly looking for ways to push both yourself and others toward the path of progression, continuously improving and evolving.
4. Russell Baker, Connecticut College, 1995
"Listen once in a while. It's amazing what you can hear. … It's good for the soul to hear yourself as others hear you, and next time maybe, just maybe, you will not talk so much, so loudly, so brilliantly, so charmingly, so utterly shamelessly foolishly."
The importance of communication in a business environment cannot be understated. Every now and then, leaders should be checking in to see whether or not they are truly listening to the needs, wants and concerns of their employees. Similarly, it is helpful to do some self-assessing and see if there is a better way to be communicating.
5. Stephen Colbert, Northwestern University, 2011
"If you love only yourself, you will serve only yourself. And you will have only yourself. So no more winning. Instead, try to love others and serve others, and hopefully find those who love and serve you in return."
Respect is a two way street. Your employees need to know that you genuinely care about their well-being and happiness for them to be productive and satisfied in their roles. Great leaders aren't just concerned about how others can help them; they also look for ways to assist them and give them the tools needed to excel in their positions.
6. Russell Wilson, University of Wisconsin, 2016
"When life tells you no, ask yourself honestly, 'What am I capable of?' And once you know the answer, don't be afraid to let everyone else know it too."
It takes a certain degree of confidence to make others believe they can trust you. You need to feel sure of yourself in order for others to do the same. Wilson also added that, too often, when we think about some of the world's greatest heroes, such as Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and Abraham Lincoln, we tend to only focus on what they accomplished. And we forget to remind ourselves of all the tough moments that they to endure to get there – the trying times when no one was paying attention. It was because those leaders chose to persevere, even when success wasn't guaranteed, that turned them into who they are known for being today.
Leaders understand that failing – again and again – is a critical part of achieving your goals. Refusing to give up even when you've been dealt a steady string of obstacles is what separates the ordinary from the extraordinary.