by CIO Staff

Leadership Advice for the Recent College Graduate–and the CIO

Jun 27, 20066 mins
IT Leadership

’Tis the season—the advice-giving season! Every spring, hundreds of thousands of young people graduate college to begin a new life—the working life. Some are bright, eager and enthusiastic; others are perplexed, concerned and wondering. All of them are educated (at least in theory), and all of them can make a contribution (OK, my theory). One of the many thousands this year is my son, Paul, who has a brand spanking-new degree in business and a full time job. Indeed I am blessed.

Before these kids matriculate into the real world, they must endure the annual commencement address. Big-name schools bring in presidents or ex presidents to share their wisdom; smaller schools bring in prominent alumni to do the same. No matter what the school, whatever the speaker, the advice flows freely. And judging by the reaction of most students I’ve observed going through this ritual, the advice goes right over their heads, preoccupied as they are with getting out of school and on with their lives.

So, if you have something to say, and want to catch their attention, a letter might be more appropriate. Unlike a commencement address, a letter can be a keepsake, something that can be referenced over time. So with your indulgence, here’s what I would write:

Dear College Graduate:

Your mother and I are very proud of you. We know how hard you have worked in the classroom as well as in your jobs to help pay for school. You have made sacrifices for your education, and now it is time to begin to reap some of the returns. Some will be financial. Others, the most important ones, will be those of the heart and spirit, the things that really matter. Some you have begun to reap already from family and friends; others will come from people whom you will meet along life’s path. Now as you enter the workplace, I’d like to share a few ideas gained from my experience as well as the experience of others.

Be open, but not too open. Communicate clearly. Let others know what you are doing and why you are doing it. Be a good team member. Share what you learn with others, and at the same time be open to the ideas of others, in particular those ideas better than your own. Openness breeds camaraderie and esprit de corps. But there are limits. You can—and should—separate work from life. Know your personal boundaries, and respect others’ too. Life is not all about work, nor is it all about play. And despite the platitudinous nature of that statement, it’s true! Make your choices and live with them.

Be humble, but not overly so. Humility is one of the most overlooked attributes in leadership. Toyota is a company that has institutionalized this virtue. Employees know their jobs depend upon adding value to what matters to the customer, and they organize the workflow and the work environment accordingly. It was a lesson it learned from Dr. W. Edwards Deming six decades ago. Too much humility is too much. Take pride in what you do so that you will feel good about doing it again, and maybe even better.

Past On Communication Leadership Columns:
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Lead always, but not all the time. Demonstrate initiative. Be the person who volunteers to spearhead the project. Assuming responsibility is a big deal; do so carefully. Understand consequences so that you will hold yourself accountable first. This lesson is easy when things are going well, when the project runs smoothly; it is a tough lesson, however, when a project is headed south. “Success has many fathers,” John F. Kennedy liked to say, “but failure is an orphan.” But remember there will be times when you want to hold back, not lead. Not only can this be a learning opportunity, seeing how others lead. It may save your career. There are some projects you are better off taking a pass on. The Hindenburg, the Edsel and Social Security reform come to mind.

Never compromise your character. George Washington, as a young man, copied by hand the “Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation,” a code of behaviors that he believed should guide his life. As judged by the example of our first commander in chief, Washington made the right choices. Many of the behaviors on Washington’s list were rooted in character and backed by principles of integrity, honesty and ethics. Character is shaped by what you do when no one is watching; it is earned, however, by how you treat others. Never forget that lesson. The respect you show others is a reflection of your beliefs and principles—your character!

Be resilient, but not bendable. Life will come at you hard and fast. Sometimes like a wind at your back while you ride your bike, it will carry you along. But often, hopefully not too often, it will flatten you with hurricane force. Getting flattened is nothing to be ashamed of; it is what you do afterward that matters. If you stay prone, you will lose. If you rise up, you will achieve, perhaps not your first, second or third goals, but you will make progress. That said, do not bend at every breeze; stand up to temptation to cut corners or take the easy way out. Life is not a shortcut; it’s the only cut.

Love your work, but within limits. Enjoy what you do. Plunge yourself into it. “No person who is enthusiastic about his work,” said legendary Hollywood mogul Sam Goldwyn, “has anything to fear from life.” But always remember no matter how much you love what you do, people come first—your co workers. Make people a priority in what you do. And that applies most especially to your family. There will be times when you will be separated by workload or distance, but keep them dear to your heart and you will keep yourself centered.

You know I could go on (and on as parents do) but I won’t. Life is not meant to be lived by following the advice of others. It is meant to be experienced—through joy, sorrow, adversity, triumph and, most of all, love. You know this well already; it’s just the father in me saying it one more time. Go forth and experience life to the fullest.

Love, Dad

P.S. Don’t forget to laugh at least once a day. “When people laugh,” writes British comedian John Cleese, “it is easier for them to admit new ideas into their minds.” Not to mention, enjoy life a whole lot more! (FYI, your old bedroom makes for a terrific home office!)