Commencement Advice Business Leaders Should Embrace

Commencement speeches give amazing motivation for graduates heading out into the world and getting ready to make their mark on society, but I think they hold some tremendous advice for business leaders and managers as well.

Here are a few of my favorites themes that I think we all can embrace.

You’re either a leader everywhere, or nowhere ~ Professional soccer player Amy Wambach to Barnard College Graduates

Abby Wambach’s convocation message was so powerful, and not just for the “619 bad-ass women” of that graduating class. (As you already know, I’m passionate about empowering young women in the workplace and in life. Her speech is required viewing for my daughters!)

What I loved about her line on leadership is that I think all too often, people think of leadership as a job; something they become when they enter the office, but I think it’s a way of life and not something you can or should turn on and off.

If we look at businesses today, leaders are facing at massive changes caused by the digital disruption underway globally (and as Wambach shared, transition can be terrifying). I imagine more than a few companies and people are terrified by what the future holds but strong leadership can help every company defend against market forces they didn’t see coming and make the rocky road ahead a little less scary.

No big challenge has ever been solved and no improvement has ever been achieved unless people dare to try something different. ~ Apple’s Tim Cook said to the graduates at Duke University.

Cook tackled head on the accelerating pace of change made possible by technology saying this is the best time in history be alive. And I agree.

We have an unprecedented opportunity to fundamentally change the world we live in, if we are bold enough, and brave enough to take action that might take us in a different direction from the herd.

As Cook said in his speech, we need to follow a vision not a path. I agree that today’s companies need a vision of what the future could hold, and then be fearless in their work to realize that vision. Daring to think differently about your company, its services and its customers is where transformation happens.

The jobs you’re likely to get now won’t exist later, and the jobs you get later, haven’t been invented yet ~ Anne-Marie Slaughter, CEO, New America, speaking in St. Louis at Washington University

We talk often about the “vortex of change” that businesses are facing, and for many industries the future is still being written. What I loved about this line is Slaughter’s speech is the acknowledgement that we are going to see major transformation in our careers and we need to embrace what’s coming. Career paths are shortening, and many people will have multiple careers in their lifetime, and that’s OK.

It is also a powerful message and the opportunities that have yet to come. If there’s one certainty in corporate America today, it’s that change is the only constant. You can be a disruptor or the one who’s facing disruption. I’d rather be the former. Be a disruptor in your own industry or as a company as you look to create those jobs that “haven’t been invented yet.”

It's OK to fail, but it's not OK to quit ~ Financial analyst Jim Cramer said in his keynote at Bucknell University.

When I think of the greatest innovations that are shaping our world, you can be certain they didn’t come out fully baked and functioning at peak performance. There were ideas that just didn’t get off the ground, prototypes that didn’t quite work the way the inventor wanted, and even great business ideas that never caught on before the breakthrough that makes headlines.

Failure is often viewed as a negative but some of the most important breakthroughs of our lives have resulted from people continuing to work hard after the first failure. As leaders, we need to create a climate where ideas (even ones that fail) are encouraged; where failures are a signal to go back to the drawing board and try again. The next breakthrough is coming, we just have to keep working through the problems one at a time.

For the last piece of advice (and inspiration), I’m heading back to my alma matter & the words of MGM’s COO, Christopher D. Brearton the graduates of the University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business.

I had so many plans and none of them came true, but opportunities come up at weird times … and when they do, you have to seize them.

Planning is important, and having a strategy for the future is critical, but businesses must be prepared to shift gears, or change lanes to take advantage of opportunities. The difference between staying the course and being open to opportunity could make the different between loss and profitability, stagnation or growth.

I think we can all learn from the words of encouragement and advice that speakers across the country have been offering our graduates (and the future employees, entrepreneurs and leaders of this nation).

Listen, learn and embrace what the future has to offer. Congratulations graduates!