Like me, you have probably been to many graduation ceremonies over the years. Mine have included high school, college, business courses, seminars, and a fair share of military courses. I have heard a lot of speakers pontificate, and some of those speakers were well-known, and highly successful people. The whole idea is that the sage is to impart wisdom so the graduates have an azimuth for their newfound knowledge they might not have picked up in the weeks, months or years they were in said course. I can honestly say I can’t recall a single anecdote from any of the speakers I have heard. That is, until now.
My son graduated from the US Army Ranger School last week, and the guest speaker was Colonel Paul Longgrear, US Army (retired). His speech was notable for two reasons. It was five minutes long at most, and he ended the speech with a single piece of profound advice. To paraphrase, he told the 142 Ranger Tab recipients this:
Rangers, I know you feel pretty beat up right now, and I would like you to remember one thing I am going to say to you. Your final objective shouldn’t be to get to the end of your life with a perfect body. Life is meant to be lived at full speed, and when you come in for your final landing, make sure you’re coming in on final approach, battered, bruised, losing airspeed and altitude rapidly, with a big smile on your face!
With that, he ended his speech to thunderous hoots and hollers from the new Rangers. Colonel Longgrear figured out a way to talk “legacy,” and convey the importance of risk taking without using the word, risk. I have heard an angel investor in Ireland express the same thing to business graduate students with different words and phrases, but the advice was the same. He said, “Life ain’t a dress rehearsal.” I heard an Arctic explorer recently define success as the intersection of dangerous and difficult. In business, we just want our people to embrace risk, and work hard; because the pace of change and uncertainty only continues to accelerate exponentially.
We know from Frederick Herzberg’s work on motivation that achievement, recognition and the work itself (in that order) are huge drivers of human behavior. Knowing that achievement is at the top of the heap, there is much we can do to stretch people to do more than they think they can. Not just physically as in the example of the Rangers, but mentally, emotionally… and even spiritually. Unlike management, leadership is about developing leaders. We help our people understand their limits when we push them way beyond what they thought possible. That is, we help them develop self-reliance to create a powerful future. It cannot be accomplished without sacrifice, and the art is in helping people to forgo familiarity and comfort for long-term gains… for themselves and the organization as a whole.
What’s your final landing going to look like?