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One of my favorite yearly traditions is watching NBC Nightly News’ highlight reel of college commencement ceremonies around the U.S. It’s a heartwarming salute to a group of people across the country that has worked incredibly hard; and it’s a lovely unifying thing to know a customary event is happening to people from all walks of life.
It also allows me a moment to reflect on my own graduation, and what it felt like to be stepping into the unknown of post-graduate life. There was a lot of fear, a bit of uncertainty, and lots of curiosity. But I was lucky, because even as I tried to figure out “the real world,” I never questioned my foundation. My values, my integrity, my beliefs — those were fully intact and helped guide my decision making as a newcomer to adulthood.
Last week, when I watched that NBC package, it made me think about the leaders who have influenced my life; the ones who helped me firm up my foundation. Parents, grandparents, teachers, family friends, professors, bosses, peer leaders…the list of people who influence us, even during only the first two decades of life, is very, very long. All of those people make us who we are.
But outside of my very tight-knit family, I can pinpoint a handful of leaders in my life whose leadership, communication style, decision-making process, and servant's hearts helped me define the leader I knew I could be one day.
The children’s choir director who had very high expectations of every student and his or her family, but the result was a successful choir and inspired group of musicians…
The director of the sports camp who structured his entire life around the knowledge that his calling was to elevate and coach up leaders worth following...
The high school English teacher who spoke to her students so directly and plainly, but with so much grace and respect…
The university president who committed his career to making the right decisions at the right time to advance an institution and thousands of students simultaneously…
What a gift to have had these leaders in my life! And now, as a growing leader, I recognize pieces of them in me every day. The way I aim to communicate, set a vision, serve our audience, and lead on my team — they are reflections of the leaders I’ve followed.
So, graduates, who have you followed? Who has helped you lay that foundation? What have you learned from them, through the good, the bad, the ugly, and everything in between? I’ll encourage you to make a list. Write down the influential leaders in your life, and a quality or two about their leadership from which you’ve learned something monumental.
And then, ask yourself this. What kind of leader do you want to be? There is always someone following you, whether it’s one person or one thousand; whether you’re 21 or 71; someone is looking to you to see how you lead.
I beg of you to take that responsibility seriously because just as you are the product of your leaders, you are laying the foundation for someone coming after you.