Commencement Address 2007 – Anna Eleanor Roosevelt

Anna Eleanor Roosevelt

May 12, 2007
Prairie Capital Convention Center, Springfield, Illinois

Anna Eleanor RooseveltIt is an honor to be here to share this very special day with you.  Your official studies have concluded (round one), I am here to recognize your great accomplishments which you have realized to date.  But I am also here to give you some thoughts about what is yet before you.

Our time together this afternoon would be more comfortable for me as a conversation because we have much to learn from each other. In dialogue we can begin to understand the possibilities—the future, which we share.

I am related to three 20th century leaders, Theodore, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt.  And as much as I’d like to simply admire them – as everybody admires or looks up to their grandparents and fore-bears, I’ve been forced to take a dispassionate look at them, just to keep up with what everybody else knows about them.  

Most of us, even if you only experienced the tail end of the last century, have a list of persons in our heads that we would consider admirable in a heroic way – as leaders.

In the 20th century, our leaders responded to who we were, what we needed, and how we saw the world.

We lionized our leaders; put them on pedestals, made them icons.  We assumed they had money and resources, and looked to them to solve our problems.  Leaders had followers – you were “Rooseveltian” or a “Reaganite.”

This was all possible, maybe even necessary because we still were quite isolated.  Borders were more imposing.  By and large, we lived where we lived.  We depended on only a few individuals to make connections on our behalf, to lead us based on what they knew, that we didn’t know.  And we based all this on our assumption or perception that that was the natural order of things.

Now, almost a decade into the 21st century, it’s clearly a different world.  Borders are blurred.  We penetrate them, if not physically, through the exchange of information – information coming to us via  satellite transmission technology, cyberspace, and the internet – –  things, not people.

Power and populations are diverse and changing all the time – leadership is not only a subject course in college but a way to live.  We define it, teach it, model it, expect it, measure it, develop it and reward it.  We consistently ask others, are you a leader? And if so, how do you know?  Today, leadership itself is more diversified.

The technology revolution has cut the security of old style leadership out from under us – and so we frantically analyze it, trying to discover what if anything, will take its place.

I’m certain that during your career here at UIS, many of you led in some way.  No matter in which way you led—in band, on stage or in the classroom, through student body activism, community involvement, being a good neighbor…whatever your role: you were required to learn, listen, and see differently; to ask more questions, to identify options….to sharpen your judgment.

Today, we can do this easily because we have access to so many fantastic tools – or at least, the potential is there.  As you begin a new phase of your life, the question is: are you willing to engage, to step up to leadership.

Those who do are not necessarily up in front.  You are not giving orders; you are not making everyone happy.  You find yourself leading by empowering—enabling others to take control of their lives.  If you engage in leadership, you are listening, guiding, understanding others – helping people solve their own problems.  That is 21st century leadership.

That is what you are faced with as you decide or not to be a leader in this new century.  Can you shift the power idiom from yourself, to others?

In business we are experiencing the same evolution.  

In the 19th and 20th centuries, business was iconic (big business), bottom-line driven, separate –viewed as benefactors at best and a parasite at worst. 

Today, businesses have new expectations, both internally and externally.  Terms like corporate social responsibility (CSR) are thrown around in every breath. 

I prefer, and use – at The Boeing Company, the term citizenship to describe the 21st century role for business leadership because it describes a more active, embedded role.

Citizenship – means being part of, participating in, sharing in the rewards and responsibilities of the whole.  It’s not about being “perfect”, it’s about “trying” and engaging.  

As a citizen, I don’t always get the government I want, but by voting I am part of our collective effort to shape and challenge and get the most progress we can.

In business, it is not our “beneficence” that allows us to be seen as leaders; instead, we are defined as leaders by the quality of our partnerships.  It is not about the size of our check, but about the energy and creativity we inspire in others. 

Its not about solving community problems, its about joining others—engaging people to create the world we all want to live in – at the local level, state, regional, national and global levels.  It’s not about being iconic; it’s about being a partner and part of something bigger than we alone.

So if we return to those idols of past centuries and look at them with new eyes, 21st century eyes, I believe we will find that the true thread of leadership was there and is still there to connect us. 

As you mentally review your list – did they empower others, did they inspire others, did they think about other’s power and capacity over their own?  Did they leave a legacy of values that endures? 

That is the leadership we at Boeing aspire to – proud of our history, confident in our products and services, and committed to being active citizens of our 21st century world.

That leadership is our brand it describes who we are.

At Boeing, we are defining the future of aviation—through innovative, market-shaping products.  But we collaborate to ensure that what we make meets the needs of our customers.  As a company, we have an enterprising spirit—precise, passionate, imaginative, and energetic.  That is how we live and work and engage at Boeing.  It’s our brand.

My guess is that any of you who took management classes will know the name of Peter Drucker—legendary management visionary.  I keep The Daily Drucker in my office and refer to it often as my secular “devotional”.  

Drucker wrote that branding by its very nature is not optional.  “If you do not position yourself in people’s minds, they will do it for you.”

So, what is your brand?

If you’ve taken marketing you know that a brand is not a logo, but is a promise made to stakeholders, and the reputation that is gained over time, based on how well that promise is kept. 

Brands reside in stakeholders’ minds and help differentiate a company’s offerings in the marketplace.  A brand is strengthened or weakened by the experiences that stakeholders have with a company, its products, or its people over time.

Substitute “company” with your name. 

We are all asked to be leaders in this 21st century world.  That role is available to each of us.  And in that role we will be expressing our promise, establishing our reputation, differentiating our lives in the minds of the people we encounter and engage – and if we stop thinking about ourselves and embrace a pattern of partnership, collaboration, and inclusion, then we will “strengthen” our brand and the experiences that our “stakeholders” have with we each of us.

If we help others do what they do best, they in turn will help others do what they do best– then we will begin to have the world we all want to live in—a world that recognizes we are not in it alone.

Another marketing genius is Scott White, president of Brand Identity Guru Inc.  He said of brand that “it is the sum of the good, the bad, the ugly and the off strategy.”  You have the power to be your brand; no one else does.

Occasions like this are markers for us – a moment we can seize to start something new, no matter our age or position.

Stay on strategy, protect your brand and may that bring you – and all the rest of us – much joy.”