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�As a Servant Leader, You Can Change the World� Commencement Address

President Pribbenow, members of Augsburg College Board of Regents, and most importantly, 2013 graduates of this great institution, it is indeed a great honor and privilege for me to receive this treasured honorary degree and to have the opportunity to share with you my thoughts on your lives as servant leaders. 

Augsburg is a unique place that unites and inspires all of us with its sense of learning, stewardship, and servant leadership in a diverse student body in this urban setting, underpinned by the beliefs and values of Martin Luther. This morning I would like to speak with the graduating seniors as servant leaders who can change the world.

The world you’re entering is not the more predictable one of my growing up years. Rather, it is a volatile and unpredictable place, as we learned in Boston two weeks ago during the marathon and the events that followed. It is often chaotic and ambiguous, filled with conflicting forces pulling you in multiple directions. It is an easy world in which to criticize others and bemoan all that is wrong with it, as our media does so well. But taking that path will ultimately lead you into a cul-de-sac of despair and disappointment.

How can you navigate this world to find the joy, fulfillment, and significance that we aspire to? My only truth is that each of us must seek and find our True North – our beliefs, our values, and the principles by which we lead our lives – and then strive to stay true to who we are at our core in spite of all the pressures and seductions attempting to pull us off course. This is not an easy task as the external forces in our lives attempt to influence us As Apple founder Steve Jobs once said, “Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice.”

Each of us has a unique place in this world of seven billion people – and a calling to make a difference. How will you find your calling? What truly inspires you? I believe we are all called to lead, but how? It starts with your desire to serve others through your leadership. Would-be leaders who feel people are there to serve them are not leaders at all. This means knowing yourself and engaging deeply in the world to seek and find the purpose of your leadership. It means following your heart, not just your head, with a deep sense of passion, compassion, and courage – which are all matters of the heart.

My journey to leadership was not an easy path. As the only child of older parents, I heard from my father from a young age that he wanted me to make up for his failures to lead by heading a major company. He even named the companies: Coca-Cola, Procter & Gamble, IBM. At age eight, this was a pretty heavy trip to lay on a little kid. In junior high and high school I joined many organizations but was never asked to lead. Finally, my senior year I ran for senior class president only to lose by a margin of 2-1. It seemed clear my classmates didn’t appreciate what a great leader I was! To get a fresh start – or perhaps try to escape myself – I went 800 miles from home to Georgia Tech and repeated my mistakes all over again – six times I ran for office and lost all six! My scorecard: 0 for 7! It was pretty clear I was more of a loser than a leader. Then some seniors took me aside and gave me some blunt feedback: “Bill, no one is ever going to want to work with you, much less be led by you, because you’re moving so fast and so focused on yourself that you don’t have time for anyone else. It’s all about you.” That was like a blow to the solar plexus. .  . I realized they were right. After that, I worked hard to change and was successful in leading many organizations in college and grad school. But in the back of my mind was this calling to values-centered leader of a major company that served others. In my forties I was en route to the top of Honeywell when one day I looked in the mirror and saw a miserable person – me. I was in the midst of a crucible, but didn’t even realize it. Once again, I was striving so hard to get ahead that I was losing sight of my True North, focused more on becoming CEO that on serving others. That led me to make the most important career change of my life when I joined Medtronic and found a mission-driven, values-centered group of people dedicated to restoring people to full life and health. My thirteen years there were the fulfillment of my professional career, as we grew from restoring 300,000 people per year to 10 million new patients every year.

What is your calling? How will you use your unique gifts to serve others? I hope you won’t take twenty years to find it, but you might as you rub up against the real world and find your unique place. To find your calling, I encourage you to dive into the world and have as many experiences as you can in a short period of time. Don’t do what others say you “should” do, but rather what your heart calls you to do. Travel or live in countries that are completely foreign to your experience. Find a service opportunity that makes you uncomfortable because you’re learning from people whose lives are so different from you. Take risks, learn to fail and pick yourself up after failing to come back and do it better the next time. Keep a journal of your experiences and your feelings and return to it often to learn from your inner wisdom as well as the wisdom of others. Take a job doing what you love, not one that earns the most money or that your family wants you to take. Most important of all, follow your heart, not just your head.

By honoring your roots and diving into life’s experiences, you will gain a deeper awareness of who you are, your passions, your motivations, your unique strengths. When you come to a vocation or avocation that highly motivates you and you are really good at, you have found your “sweet spot” – that place where you can find joy, fulfillment, and success through serving others. And you will have found the purpose of your leadership, as I did at Medtronic, by striving to be a servant leader.

As a servant leader, you can change the world. Not the whole world of course, but the world in which you live, work, and interact with others. You can make this world a better place through your character and your leadership.  As anthropologist Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt the power of a small group of people to change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” You, your classmates and your generation are the servant leaders who will make this world a better place for everyone.

When you are on your deathbed and your favorite granddaughter asks you what you did to make a difference in the world, you’ll have a clear answer for her that becomes her inspiration to go forth into this world that is filled with so much chaos, volatility, uncertainty and ambiguity – yet has so much joy, awe, and beauty all around us and the opportunity to help others find it by serving them.

Let me close with a favorite quote from Nobel Peace Prize winner Albert Schweitzer, who said: I don't know what your destiny will be, but one thing I do know. The only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.”

As you journey through life, may you find that true happiness and deep sense of fulfillment by serving others through your leadership. As a servant leader, you can indeed change the world in which you live.

Harvard Business School Launches New Executive Education Program On Building Global Leadership

BOSTON – May 6, 2013 – Harvard Business School (HBS) announces the launch of Leading a Global Enterprise (http://www.exed.hbs.edu/programs/gel/), a course scheduled to take place from July 28–August 2, 2013, on the HBS campus. The program is intended to teach business leaders how to operate effectively in a global corporate world and work seamlessly with multicultural organizations.

Leading a Global Enterprise was created in part to expand on HBS faculty member Bill George's principles of leaders following their authentic True North and cochair Krishna Palepu's deep insights into Winning in Emerging Markets. The program focuses on global intelligence, examining studies of companies like Siemens, Tata and IBM that have developed a strong presence within their global business networks. Participants will work closely with HBS leadership faculty to study how these companies have achieved worldwide success, understand the traits of prosperous global leaders and collaborate on ways to incorporate these skills in their own businesses.

“We developed this program to give established leaders an opportunity to step back and explore their development as global influencers in the business community, building the confidence they need to work with like-minded companies around the world,” said Professor Das Narayandas, Senior Associate Dean and Chair of Executive Education and Publishing.  “In an era of industrial globalization, it is crucial to understand how to successfully work with other cultures.”

Senior executives who lead established global businesses, marketing executives running global product and marketing groups, or senior regional executives and country heads preparing for greater global responsibilities are encouraged to take this course. Alongside Bill George, Krishna Palepu and other senior HBS faculty members, participants will follow an intensive one-week program, resulting in the development of a customized global plan.

Leading a Global Enterprise will provide valuable insights for global executives looking to increase their ability to lead global organizations,” said Bill George, Professor of Management Practice. “In order to win in competitive global markets, leaders need to expand their global intelligence, collaborate cross-culturally and align their people with common missions and values that lead to superior long-term performance.”

For more information, please contact:

Jim Aisner, jaisner@hbs.edu, +1-617-495-6157

Program Details:

Leading a Global Enterprise will run from July 28–August 2, 2013, and will take place at Harvard Business School.  Please visit http://www.exed.hbs.edu/programs/gel for complete curriculum details and to apply.

Leading a Global Enterprise

(July 28August 2, 2013, Harvard Business School)


William W. George, Professor of Management Practice

Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Professor of Business Administration

Nitin Nohria, George F. Baker Professor of Administration, Dean of the Faculty

Krishna G. Palepu, Professor of Business Administration, Senior Advisor to Harvard's President on Global Strategy

About Harvard Business School:

Harvard Business School Executive Education, a division of Harvard Business School, is located on a 40-acre campus in Boston, Massachusetts. HBS faculty develop and deliver over  80 open-enrollment Executive Education programs and more than 60 custom programs for leading organizations worldwide. Last year, more than 9,000 business executives attended programs in classrooms across the globe, including Boston, London, Mumbai, and Shanghai. With global research centers in seven key regions, HBS faculty continue to develop groundbreaking research, forge powerful alliances with global organizations, and fulfill the mission of educating leaders who shape the practice of business and innovation.

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