Last weekend, I had the great honor to give the commencement speech at the Palumbo-Donahue School of Business at Duquesne University. To speak in front of 2,500+ people was both a humbling and nerve-racking experience. I encouraged the graduating students to make their journeys an incredible and amazing adventure and shared a few stories with them which hopefully were thought-provoking as they embark on becoming the next leaders to make a difference in the world. My guiding thoughts for them included: a continuous focus on fostering competence, seeing the opportunities in change, being comfortable in adversity, staying in the moment, a reminder that integrity is key and that competence without character is nothing!
As I prepared for this speech I talked to my father-in law, Nelson Cano. Nelson is one of those individuals who are larger than life. He is an extraordinary man. To say that both his mental and physical strengths are impressive would be a gross understatement. He was a teacher as well as a senior executive in a multinational company in Peru and is currently a successful entrepreneur. When I was telling him about my speech, he told me about transcendence and the importance of giving back. He told me that the meaning of transcendence in the Inca Empire was "to make a connection at a deeper level" and "to create an experience beyond the ordinary". For the Incas transcendence was not only a spiritual guide but also a day-to-day activity – manifesting itself in many different social and behavioral aspects, including: sharing of wealth, giving, teaching, helping the less fortunate, communications and continuous improvement.
As I was thinking about this and how we can continue to improve as leaders, to connect at a deeper level and to create an experience beyond the ordinary, a few areas of focus came to mind:
Become a mentor. We talk about the importance of mentorship all the time. I had a mentor for several years who I would meet for breakfast every two months or so; we would discuss a current work-related topic, a current global or business issue and all kinds of personal stories. These moments were incredibly valuable to me. I would always leave those interactions re-energized, with a tremendous amount of gratitude and thoughtful advice to think about. I truly felt a connection at a deeper level. As leaders, we should spend more time mentoring others – but do it in an authentic, caring and honest manner.
Be a teacher. Great leaders spend a significant amount of their time "teaching" and sharing their thoughts and perspectives. Especially in times of increased change and complexity, continuous sharing of knowledge and experiences are even more critical. I do wonder if we check our own schedules, how much time do we really spend on teaching others? The most successful companies make "teaching" a core priority.
Make it special. I believe that extraordinary experiences are created by humans who care, value the interaction and are willing to make a moment special. It is easy for us to get stuck in the day-to-day motions, take things for granted or rush through tasks, because we are too busy or stressed. Great leaders are able to step out of this and see the opportunities a moment can create. By making an ordinary meeting special or an interview extraordinary, they create an inclusive environment that can foster a tremendous amount of engagement.
Becoming a mentor, being a teacher and making moments more special are not difficult tasks at all – but when done well can make all the difference. They may require us to be more humble, be willing to listen and set judgments aside. As leaders, like the Incas did many years ago, we have a responsibility "to transcend – to make a connection at a deeper level and to create an experience beyond the ordinary".