Here is how I closed my last leadership class session a few days ago. It followed talking about Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech.
We happen to have lived through a semester where the headlines show we haven’t realized his dream. You only had to read the headlines for more problems. I’m volunteering for a non-profit that works on incarceration. We have children on Riker’s Island in solitary confinement. Children. In our lifetimes sea levels will displace tens or hundreds of millions of people from their homes.
I taught you skills. I think practicing those skills leads to values, which I consider the culmination of the course. Understanding your values and those of people around you. Awareness of values emerges from practicing leadership skills like playing music emerges from playing scales. You start mechanically and then music emerges.
I don’t know if you’ll do the leadership equivalent of playing jazz, classical, blues, pop, or what. That is, I don’t know your values. I can’t tell you what they should be. Only you can figure out your values. Only you know if you’ll apply your leadership skills to business, government, family, community work, or what.
These big problems aren’t matters of carbon dioxide, methane, or parts per million. Those are the results, what we can measure. The problems result from the behaviors of large groups of people. We have been developing skills to influence how groups of people behave.
You are developing those skills, I hope to practice them more effectively and to experience more reward than anyone else. That was my goal for this course. For you to learn to lead as effectively as possible in a semester and to realize your passions and meaning, value, importance, and purpose and act and live by these things. Martin Luther King got a C and a C+ in Public Speaking in graduate school so you may be ahead of him, relatively speaking.
Some people talk about leadership and students’ futures like you have to tackle all the world’s biggest problems. I don’t want to imply leadership is only valuable when applied to global or historical issues.
There are fun and other rewarding parts to leadership too. There are parties to be organized, bands to be formed, companies to be started, boyfriends and girlfriends to be wooed and won over. There are employers out there who don’t know you are the best people to fill their jobs!
What I love about leadership is that learning it improves your life. And improving your life, for social creatures like us, teaches you leadership too.
I had you practice these skills with projects that matter in your lives to make the emotions and the social aspects of practicing visceral, so you learned them in your gut, but not so that you would stay only on things of immediate importance. I still recommend applying your skills there, improving your life and the lives of people around you. Use these skills to enjoy yourself as much as you can.
I believe that the skills you develop will make you more sensitive to conflicts you can help solve, first within yourself, then to increase the reward of ever bigger teams. I believe that creating meaning, value, importance, and purpose in your life will motivate and lead you to find places in your life missing them, which you will fix, which will lead you to find where they’re missing in the teams you work in, which you will fix, which will lead you to find where they’re missing in bigger and bigger teams, maybe one day to help solve some of the world’s biggest problems.
In short, I recommend you use the skills you learned in this class to keep creating meaning, value, importance, and purpose. I think it’s the best way to leave the world better than you found it, by whatever you consider better.
Whether your heroes are Edison, Buffet, King, Malcolm X, Oprah, Florence Nightingale, or whoever, chances are leading others made them succeed.
You have the raw ability your role models had. Achieving what they did is a matter of self-awareness, practicing skills, and taking responsibility.
This is from my notes. I didn’t just read my notes verbatim, so it’s not exactly what I said, but close.