By Kevin Meyer
It's college graduation season, so once again we get to listen to a bunch of commencement addresses by supposed dignitaries launching kids still recovering from their latest hangovers out into the real world. God help us.
One of those guys was Michael Bloomberg. As a recovering partisan hack, now deeply independent yet stuck in the conundrum of being a fiscal conservative, a social liberal, and a fairly but not completely libertarian in today's increasingly polarized environment, I like Mike. I don't like all Mike, such as his desire to dictate what goes into my food when I dine in New York City, but unlike a lot of folks I don't have some narrow-minded litmus test. You have to be pragmatic, and compromising, to make progress. Imagine that.
I've described his leadership style before – glass-walled offices for visual management, rotating positions for cross-training even at executive levels, and the like. Those of you that know him know he's also fiercely independent, tells it like it is, and focuses on the human potential side of leadership.
Mike's style found its way into the two commencement addresses he gave this past weekend. Sure there's the occasional political overtone, but try to ignore that (and I will too) as you think about his words from an organizational perspective.
From his address to Franklin & Marshall:
Let me begin with independence – which is so fundamental to our identity as Americans. It’s the conviction behind our nation’s founding and the driving force behind its success. And yet, I look at Washington today and I see a serious challenge to our spirit of independence. It’s standard operating procedure when Democrats propose an idea, for Republicans to oppose it – and vice versa – just because it’s not their idea.
Both groups believe passionately that they are right and the other is wrong – because neither group questions the assumptions underlying their own party’s positions. When you belong to a group – whether it’s a company, or a nonprofit, or a political party – you tend to accept their way of doing things.
Be an independent thinker. Turn ideas on their head. Look at them from different perspectives. It may be lonely at times; it may make you unpopular at times; it may be dangerous to your career. But independence lies at the heart of innovation – and progress.
Forget government – I bet most of us could see that situation in basic office politics. Be independent and question underlying assumptions. Why why why why why? What is really the best path forward or the best solution? What is really the problem? What is really the appropriate tool?
The thrills that really stay with you forever – I’m sure many of you know – are the ones you get from giving back to your community.
True. No real comment, it's self-evident, but I wanted to throw that in here. It's important.
From his address to the University of North Carolina:
Don’t be afraid to shoot the long ball. Take the risk. Life is too short to spend your time avoiding failure. If I had worried about failure – or listened to those who do – I would never have started my company, and never run for mayor. I can’t imagine my life if I hadn’t taken those risks. Not every risk will work out, but that’s ok. Failure is the world’s best teacher.
A bit cheesy, and probably some variation of this is in every commencement address, but a concept that most people forget as soon as they get suckered into their first salaried job. Just go for it! Before it's too late. I quit my first company after 5 years because I wanted to manufacture something more meaningful. I left an accelerating career at a Fortune-50 after 10 years to try something different. I did a startup or two. Now, in the best job of my life, I'm shifting gears again. Looking back, at any of those junctures I could have easily found myself living in a cardboard box. But it didn't work out that way – luckily – and I'm better for each of those decisions.
Never stop learning. Education is a lifetime journey. When you leave these walls, keep asking questions. Keep acquiring knowledge. Keep seeking truth.
As I described just a week or two ago, I've found the best indicator of both personal and professional leadership success is an ability and propensity to seek out, consume, distill, implement, and teach new knowledge. Kinda makes you look at your succession plan (you have one, right?) a bit differently.
No party has a monopoly on truth, or God on its side. And I should know: I was a Democrat before I was a Republican before I became an independent – and I never changed my principles. I hope all of you will do that too. Think for yourself – and decide for yourself, even if it’s not popular, or if it runs counter to the party line. If everyone in Washington did that, our country would be a whole lot better off.
That independent thinking thing again. And principle-based leadership.
In the game of life, when the final buzzer sounds, the only stat you carry with you is the number of assists you made. So help other people put some points on the board. Or as Dickie V might say: don’t be slow to dish the rock.
And that service thing again, with a servant leadership twist. Help other people put some points on the board – great thought.
Now, I know you remembered every word of that, but just in case, here’s a summary of the seven, in no particular order: Teamwork is everything. Assist others. Risks are necessary. Hmmmm, the first three letters of those words are T-A-R – I wonder where this is going. Hustle, always. Elbows occasionally have to be used. Education is a lifelong journey. Love what you do. And if you put that list together, it of course spells Tar – heel.
Leadership, T-A-R-H-E-E-L style. I think UNC got the best of Mike this time.