2006 Commencement Leadership Lessons

Lean is about a journey, and it requires leadership. If you can not teach, you can not lead. On Father’s Day I mentioned the spirit of learning from our fathers important lessons on leadership. Although a little late, I thought I would also draw lessons from the many commencement addresses of 2006. This topic occurred to me in part because I was fortunate to deliver the Honors Convocation keynote address this year at my alma mater, Lehigh University. I won’t bore you with my speech, but there were many great addresses. I have purposely avoided the many political figures, because they are often sending a message to those other than the students. I’ll start with a return to Lehigh for what I considered a great speech by filmmaker Ken Burns.

Ken Burns 2006 Lehigh Commencement address

Burns spoke of many topics, but I think the most compelling call to action was this:

“Do something that will last and be beautiful.”

He draws his inspiration from an interview that he did with Arthur Miller, but nonetheless, it is a wonderful sentiment. To me, what is more lasting and more beautiful than an organization that has energy, focus and spirit to move forward together.

Ken Burns was busy because he also delivered the address for Georgetown University.

Ken Burns 2006 Georgetown University address

One of his early comments was telling for me:

“…your future lies behind you. In your past, personal and collective. In the last thirty years of filmmaking, I have learned many things, but that the past is our greatest teacher is perhaps the most important lesson.”

This is excellent. Everyone talks of vision, forward progress and the future, but we seem to want to ignore that great moments, people and lessons lie in the past, whether yesterday, 10 years ago or 2000 years ago. Learn from the past, but from history and your own actions that you take every day.

More worthwhile commencement speeches:

President Simpson at the University of Buffalo, 2006 Commencement address

He closes his address with three questions, which I believe are an excellent chance for anyone to reflect on their own lives, not just at graduation:

“1. What mark will you leave on this world? 2. What lessons will you seek from it? 3. What contributions will you make to it?”

British Robinson’s Fairfield University 2006 Commencement address

My favorite passage from this address is as follows:

“When is the best time to do things? There is never really a best time to do most things; the best time to do things is often when the moment or opportunity presents itself. Sure we must all make judgments, but if we wait too long or think too much, the “best time” will pass us by. As James Baldwin writes, “No one can possible know what is about to happen. It is happening each time, for the first time, for the only time.”

“So, this is your time and your opportunity to make your unique impact on the world. You must seize it. Trust yourself. Your challenge is no different than those confronted by a Churchill or a Martin Luther King. It’s unique and decides the fate of YOUR life. You are the best person to make those decisions. As Goethe said, “Be bold, and mighty forces will come to your aid.””

Michael Uslan’s Indiana University 2006 Commencement address

OK, so he produced Batman movies. But his journey is an incredible tale of chasing a dream through adversity. I recommend reading the whole thing, but here’s my favorite recommendation:

“And if there’s no other advice I could give you, I’d simply urge you all always to have a Plan “B”…and a Plan “C.”

Sheila Johnson’s Trinity University 2006 Commencement address

As an entrepreneur, this appears credible and useful advice:

“We must never assume it will be an easy road and be ready to accept defeats without giving up or losing our vision and caring about people. Excite and inspire others with your passion and boldness. Be a champion for what you believe is right -and don’t lose sight of who you really are.”

And finally, there are other places we can go to learn from commencement speeches. In case you don’t want to Google your way through all the bad ones, here are a few books that have sorted through as many commencement addresses as possible and compiled what they consider to be the best:

Onward!: …America’s Best Commencement Speeches

Graduation Moments: …Best Commencement Speeches Ever

Speaking of Graduation:…Timeless Graduation Speeches

And finally, if you’d like to write one of your own:

Writing Great Speeches

So, think of your lean efforts as beginning a great journey, just as a college graduate is embarking on a journey. Approach your journey with ambition, spirit, energy and above, a insatiable curiosity.

Please check out my main blog page at www.leanblog.org

The RSS feed content you are reading is copyrighted by the author, Mark Graban.

, , , on the author’s copyright.


Thanks for reading! I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please scroll down to post a comment. Click here to receive posts via email.


Now Available – The updated, expanded, and revised 3rd Edition of Mark Graban’s Shingo Research Award-Winning Book Lean Hospitals: Improving Quality, Patient Safety, and Employee Engagement. You can buy the book today, including signed copies from the author.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Please consider leaving a comment or sharing this post via social media.

Jamie Flinchbaugh is a lean advisor, speaker, and author. In addition to co-founding the Lean Learning Center, he has helped build nearly 20 companies as either a co-founder, board member, advisor, or angel investor. These companies range from high-performance motorcycles to SaaS tools for continuous improvement. He has advised over 300 companies around the world in lean transformation, including Intel, Harley-Davidson, Crayola, BMW, and Amazon. Jamie co-authored the popular book The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lean, and continues to share his experiences as a Contributing Editor forIndustryWeek and as a blogger at JamieFlinchbaugh.com. He holds degrees from Lehigh University, University of Michigan, and MIT, and continues to teach and mentor on campus. Jamie is best known for helping to transform how we think about lean from a tools-centric model to one based on principles and behaviors. His passion for lean transformation comes from seeking to unlock the great potential that people possess to build inspiring organizations.

Posted in: Blog
Tags:

Post a Comment

CommentLuv badge