I am always intrigued by what is said in commencement speeches. Steve Jobs’ famous 2005 commencement address at Stanford is one of the most Googled. His “stay hungry, stay foolish” theme really resonated with listeners. If you never heard it, it is a real gem. You can watch it here.
This June, at my alma mater’s graduation ceremonies, Princeton’s departing President, Shirley Tilghman, referred to Jeff Bezos’ commencement address to graduates in 2010. Though not as memorable or as well-known as Jobs’ talk, Bezos offered a series of questions for leaders or at least what every leader should be asking.
Bezos is Founder and CEO of Amazon.com and is a Princeton Class of 1986 graduate. His remarks challenged graduating seniors to consider 10 key questions. Here they are for your consumption.
1) Will inertia be your guide, or will you follow your passions?
2) Will you follow dogma, or will you be original?
3) Will you choose a life of ease, or a life of service and adventure?
4) Will you wilt under criticism, or will you follow your convictions?
5) Will you bluff it out when you are wrong, or will you apologize?
6) Will you guard your heart against rejection, or will you act when you fall in love?
7) Will you play it safe, or will you be a little bit swashbuckling?
8) When it’s tough, will you give up, or will you be relentless?
9) Will you be a cynic, or will you be a builder?
10) Will you be clever at the expense of others, or will you be kind?
I certainly was challenge by almost all of these. I did not feel a sense of guilt or failure so much as new resolve to grow and risk in these areas. Numbers 1, 6, and 9 have particular meaning for me at this moment in life and leadership.
How about you? I suggest you reflect honestly on the list, and choose your top 2-3 questions for further investigation and focus. Leaders – especially those who share leadership or have collaborative styles – will have to take some risks that will cause discomfort and leave you vulnerable to failure or criticism.
But what other options are there? A life filled with woulda-coulda-shoulda regrets and a leadership legacy what-if’s and what-might-have-beens?
Not for me. And I hope not for you.