...Be the Leader...Follow the Leader...Take your Turn...
Leadership -South Bend/Mishawaka
Address -Class VI
May 12, 1999
Africa, I am told, they speak of two hungers. There is the lesser
hunger, which arises
to satisfy the needs of the body, and there is the greater hunger
which arises to satisfy the needs
of the spirit [Charles Handy, The Hungry Spirit]. Having just satisfied the lesser hunger with a graduation dinner,
please join me for a few minutes and consider with me a few thoughts
about the greater hunger. The beauty of leadership, our topic for
this evening, is that
depending on how, and where, and when it is exercised, it can, and
ideally it should, satisfy both hungers. The world, both the large
world you read about in the newspaper, and on television, and
also the small world you live in every day, is hungry for both kinds
of leadership. That is where
you come in, and that is what I will ask you to think about for the
next few minutes.
I am ahead of myself. Let's back up to the beginning, and begin
where graduation addresses
are supposed to begin: with congratulations
to you - Class VI of the South Bend/Mishawaka, youth Leadership
Program. On the second Wednesday of each month since August, you
have met together as a
class to learn about our community and to prepare for your role in
it, both now and in the future. Tonight, with your Commencement,
your year of preparation comes to an end. Beginning
tonight, you are a graduate of this wonderful community leadership
I were to guess how you feel at this moment, I would guess that a
part of you is saying "Congratulations. Thank you… but Now
What? What am I supposed to do now?" If you go a bookstore, you
may find that Bill Cosby, a well-known graduation speaker in
addition to his television success, knows exactly how you feel. His
new book on graduation is simply titled Congratulations! Now
What?! I have borrowed Bill Cosby's title to help organize our thoughts
tonight. We are in the Congratulations part now; we will get to the "Now
What?!" part soon.
Congratulations tonight also go to all of the people who believed in you when you applied for and were accepted into this program, who believed in you while you were going through this program, and who believe in you now. Your parents, your teachers, your friends, even people you may not know have believed in you. It is no small thing, you know, to have someone believe in you. Leaders, after all, must have followers. In fact, one of the best tests of who will be a good leader is as simple as this: who can be a good follower.
are all … and in turn … both
followers and leaders. Life is like that. Life, in fact, is
often quite a bit like the game of Follow the Leader we all played
when we were young. We took turns being the leader, then. When it
was our turn to lead, we led by example, by modeling exactly which
actions we thought would be best at that moment. Our followers tried
to live up to, or even exceed in their actions the example we had
set for them. When it was our turn to be a follower, we tried to imitate the leader's actions
as precisely as we could. The strength of the game, and the fun of
it, depended completely on how well the leaders led, AND
on how well the followers followed.
athlete, in every sport, who has ever played a team game at any
level understands this
concept. For the good of the game and for the good of the team, you
must sometimes be a leader and sometimes be a follower.
Sometimes, it is your turn to play; sometimes,
it is your turn not to play. Sometimes, it is your role to score;
sometimes, it is your role to help your teammate score.
As it is in the lesser game of athletics, so it is in the greater game of life. So - tonight on this night of Commencement and Congratulations, here is Rule #1 for you: Believe in Yourself; Believe in Others; and Take your Turn; Be the Leader and Follow the Leader.
Hearing me offer a Rule may remind you of the famous graduation
address given by novelist Kurt Vonnegut at M.I.T., which he began by
saying "Wear Sunscreen." Everything
else, he went on to say would be simply his opinion, but wearing
sunscreen had some scientific validity to it. So, he said, I
recommend that you do it. Kurt Vonnegut's advice is currently
playing as a song on the radio. My Rule #2 for tonight carries more philosophical than scientific
weight. The Rule is this: Acquire,
Trust, and Use Good Brakes.
Well, you may be thinking, Thanks for the common sense safety tip about good driving. In recommending this rule, I am thinking about more than driving a car. I chose the driving image because driving is still new to most of you, and you are, I hope, still interested in learning how to drive better… With that said, let's go on to the rule about brakes. One reason manufacturers put brakes on cars is because good brakes allow the car to be driven faster. Good brakes allow the car to change speeds when appropriate. Good brakes allow the car to travel to places that might be too dangerous to go without them. Good brakes help to make driving both safe and fun. You can imagine what driving would be like if there were no brakes. In this town, we might not go anywhere at all in the winter. I leave you to think of more of the lesser implications of brakes and no brakes. I want to go on to speak of the greater role "brakes" play on the roads of life. Putting on the "brakes" in life allows you a chance to pause, to reflect, to refresh yourself, to plan, to play, even to dream. Like they do in our cars, the "brakes" allow you to control the speed of your life. They allow you not only to get more done and to live life faster, they also allow you to evaluate the road you are on, and to make changes when you choose to. "Brakes" allow you time to sharpen our vision, and to check your values, and to make a plan for accomplishing your dream.
a dream, and sharing a vision are the primary jobs of the leader.
The leader by definition, is
the person who knows what we are doing, and why. There are people
who say that the chief job of all leadership is to communicate a
vision to the followers that everyone can believe in and can
work to help accomplish. In
his work on personal leadership entitled The Seven Habits
of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey writes about the
importance of "sharpening the saw." In order for the saw
to cut well, he writes, it must be sharpened regularly. "Sharpening
the saw" is Stephen Covey's term for applying good brakes.
year here in the Youth Leadership Program has been a way of applying
"brakes" (even though it may have speeded up your
Wednesdays). All of education, in fact, can be viewed
as way of applying good brakes to our lives...a time of preparing
which precedes a time of action. Meditation, prayer, church...these
are all forms of brakes. So important are good brakes for good
leadership that, in the Grandest Plan of All for human living, one
full day in seven has been set aside for using them.
Rule #3: As good as they are, brakes are not all there is to life or to leadership. If all you did was to step on the brakes, you would never go anywhere. As important as the seventh day is, it is most important in the context of the other six. Leaders not only dream of action and plan action, leaders also take action, and inspire others to take action. This is the "Now What?!" part of the program.
What???? "Screw your courage to the sticking place" (as
Shakespeare put it) and put your thoughts into action. In other
words, do something...good. Rule #3 is the driving
metaphor writ large. Now what?? Step
on Your Own Gas, and Go. This is very existential. It is also very personal. It is also the very
essence of leadership. Existentialism used to be known as the
theory that no one could take a bath for you. Leadership, I believe,
is characterized by the idea
that no one can lead your life for you.
leadership has integrity, and it has respect. Genuine leadership
gets its integrity by
matching what the leader believes, with what the leader says, and
with what the leader does. Integrity and respect, including
self-respect, comes from knowing that what you say is what
you believe, and that what you do is what you say. Leadership, in
short, begins on the inside. It begins by paying attention to your greater hunger.
in all of the programs that you have seen this year, or in all of
the programs of your high
school, or in all of the programs of your community...somewhere
there is at least one that resonates within you, whether because you
are inspired by it, or because you want to change it, or because you
want to contribute to it. Rule #3 says: Step on your own gas, and go
to that one. Leaders are defined by their actions. Go where
your greater hunger tells you to go, and when
you get there, "screw your courage to the sticking place"
and take action.
We are deep in the heart of leadership now, so I want to go directly to Rule #4: Here it is: Accept Responsibility for Your Own Life. "Leadership" is a big word, suggesting big ideas and big adventures. "Responsibility" is sometimes seen as a smaller word, suggesting undone chores, and unwelcome duties. The fact, however, is that leadership begins with responsibility. Leadership doesn't get any simpler, or more fundamental, or more important, or more challenging than this. Leaders accept responsibility. That is a fact, and that is the truth.
My friend, George Block, who coaches in San Antonio, explained it to me this way, "Leadership" he said, "is the flower; Responsibility is the seed." Let me say that again. Leadership is the flower; Responsibility is the seed. Clearly, what this means is that if you want the flowers of leadership, you must plant the seeds of responsibility. And - since this is an organic metaphor - you must nurture the seeds, and cultivate the seeds, and allow them to grow until they flower. Here in Indiana, you know that if you set out to grow 90 day corn, it's going to take about 3 months. No matter how much food, or water, or sun, or fertilizer you apply, you cannot speed up the process very much. Developing leaders is an organic process also. Leaders grow at their own rate. You cannot make "instant" leaders anymore than you can make "instant" corn. You have to grow both, and in each case, the process takes a while.
me put it to you this way: on your journey through life, who is in
the driver's seat? The leader answers "I am." Leadership begins inside a person, when the seed of
responsibility takes root in the soul. All good leaders lead
from within. On the outside, a person's title does not make a person
a leader. A title only gives
"permission" to lead. Neither does a person's
position make a person a leader. Position only gives the
"power" to lead. Together, title
and position may give a person "control", and control can
"get things done", especially things for the lesser
hunger. Control does not make a person a leader either. None of
these things make automatically make a person a leader because none
of them automatically satisfy the
greater hunger of the spirit.
organization has leaders in it who have neither title, nor position,
nor control. What they do have is integrity. These leaders accept
responsibility for their own lives, and for the lives of
others. They lead themselves and others into action based on a
dream, a vision, and a plan
that pays attention to both the greater and the lesser hunger and
that is firmly rooted in
their own souls. When
(and it does happen) "in the course of human events" these
people also have permission and power, title and position, the
results can truly change both individual people and
the world around them. We all know some of these people. We admire
them, respect them, follow them as our leaders.
That may sound like a large, a long, and an intimidating process. In reality, it is only doing what we want to do anyway. Don't we all want to be independent? Don't we all want to make our own decisions? Don't we all want to "lead" (there's that word again) our own lives? Don't we all want to be accepted into our group? Don't we all want to see our group do great things? Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes, of course we do. The drive is imbedded in all of us. Because of that, leadership is possible for all of us. We begin our own leadership by accepting responsibility for who we are and for what we do. "Who is responsible for the person I become?" "I am.” That is the question and that is the answer, which is encoded in the seed of leadership. You can plant that seed in your soul at any time. The final answer to Bill Cosby's "Now What?!" question are these three words: Plant The Seed.
a constant reminder that One
Person Can, and Does, and Will make a Difference.
I need only ask you to take a brief search of your own life for you
to identify individual people whose leadership you chose to follow.
Each of these individual people is, for you, a leader who made a
difference. Your experience is not rare. It is common, and is oh so
important. To emphasize the point, I would like to read you a small
story, taken from a novel by
the Brazilian novelist, Paulo Coelho. It goes like this:
A scientist who studied monkeys on an island in Indonesia
was able to teach a certain one to wash bananas' before eating them.
Cleansed of sand and dirt, the food was more flavorful. The
scientist - who did this only because he was studying the learning
capacity of monkeys - did not imagine what would eventually happen.
So he was surprised to see that the other monkeys on the island
began to imitate the first one.
then, one day, when a certain number of monkeys had learned to wash
their bananas, the monkeys on all of the other islands in the
archipelago began to do the same thing. What was most surprising,
though, was that the other monkeys learned to do so without having
had any contact with the island where the experiment had been
He stopped. "Do you understand?”
are several similar scientific studies. The most common explanation
is that when a certain number of people evolve, the entire human
race begins to evolve. We don't know how many people are needed -
but we know that's how it works. [By the River Piedra I Sat Down
and Wept, pp. 146-47.]
your chemistry class, this number is called a "critical mass."
You know what that is. It is
the minimum amount of the materials you must have in order for a
chemical change to take place. As long as you have less than the
critical mass of material, nothing happens. As soon as you have the
critical mass or more of the material, all of it changes. It works
in the chemistry lab. We all know that. The
leadership question is whether it also works for human development.
What is the critical mass of humanity that it will take for all of
the human race to evolve to its next level? No one yet knows the
answer to that question. We all know there is a new age coming. We all know that we will need new leaders to help us get there,
and to teach us how to live once we do. Those of us who are your
parents' age or older also know that when these new leaders emerge,
they will be younger than we are. Our spirits are hungry for
them now. One person can,
and does, and will make a difference. Perhaps, you…
Rule #6 - Finally, there is leadership rule #6. There are those who say that of all the rules, Rule #6 is the most important. There are even those who say there aren't any rules 1-5, there is only Rule #6. So here it is, Rule #6 for Leadership: Laugh a little; Forgive a lot; and Don't Take Yourself so Doggone Seriously.
that said, and with thanks, I will follow Rule #6 myself, and will
smile, and will be done, and will sit down.
Congratulations to you all! Now What? - Take Your Turn, Be the Leader, Follow the Leader; Apply Good Brakes; Put Your Thoughts into Action; Accept Responsibility; Know that One Person Can Make a Difference; And…Follow Rule #6.
you, and Fare Well.
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