Leaving a Legacy of Leadership

Closing speech for the 2012 University System of Georgia L3:Summit

Student leaders, university system colleagues, thank you for the opportunity to share this closing speech to what has been an incredible week of leadership training here at the L3:Summit. You’ve heard advice from leaders like Chancellor Huckaby, you’ve participated in training and team-building exercises provided by your peers and from some of the most dedicated Student Affairs staff from across the University System. And, now they’re giving you an I.T. guy to close this thing out :).

I’m grateful for this chance to share with you some notes on leadership that I first developed as a brief speech recognizing our President Emeritus, Dr. David Potter, upon his retirement from North Georgia College & State University. I’ve worked in the University System of Georgia for the past 14 years, and I’ve spent six of those years as Chief Information Officer at the executive level here at North Georgia. I’ve studied leadership for most of my adult life, and I’ve been fortunate to have been mentored by some truly gifted leaders during my time in the System, and Dr. Potter was one of those mentors.
I have three points that I want to make sure you have in your leadership tool belt today as you leave this L3:Summit and go back to your campuses, summer jobs, and student organizations.

Study Leadership.
You’re already making progress toward this goal by attending this summit. Know the qualities and habits of good leaders. Chancellor Huckaby started this week off with five traits to work on: Character, Vision, Service, Communication, and Teamwork. Take good advice from leaders who’ve proven themselves.
Study what great leaders do – Harry S. Truman is quoted as saying “Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.” Effective leaders study the traits of effective leadership. My favorite definition of a leader is simply “someone others want to follow.” The best way to become a person worth following is to build the character traits in yourself that make good leaders great.
I’ve shared small 4×5 cards with you at your tables with a list of fifteen character traits of effective leaders from that speech I wrote in honor of President Potter, and I’ll go over those characteristics briefly:
The first trait is perhaps the most important and the most difficult to attain in this 24×7, instant gratification culture: patience.
A leader is patient. He is not passive, but gives people the time to do things right.
A leader is kind. She is considerate.
A leader is not jealous. He celebrates everyone’s victories.
A leader is not boastful. She shares the credit.
A leader is not vain. He values others.
A leader does not dishonor others. She treats everyone with respect.
A leader is not self-seeking. He builds up the people around him.
A leader is not easily angered. She creates a safe fail-and-try-again zone.
A leader keeps no record of wrongs. He forgives.
A leader does not delight in evil. She strives for the greater good.
A leader rejoices in the truth. He is transparent.
A leader protects. She stands up for what is right, the organization, her team, and herself.
A leader trusts. He believes in his people.
A leader hopes. She does not give in to negativity.
And at the end of this list, the foundational characteristic of a great leader: Perseverance.
A leader perseveres. He keeps moving forward.
It’s not enough to be patient once, to be kind once, to trust once – a leader has to keep on going, keep doing the right thing time after time, decision after decision.
You will not achieve perfection across these fifteen traits, or across any list of great leadership attributes. But, by studying leadership, by learning about effective habits of leaders, and by reminding yourself of your goals in becoming a leader people want to follow, you will stand out. You will be remarkable because you care enough to keep growing.
Study Leadership.

The second point I want to impress upon you is this:
Reflect on your leadership.
Think about the leadership decisions you’re making. Be aware of the impact of your decisions on others. Leaders are problem-solvers, and to solve problems effectively, you have to look at your decisions from a variety of perspectives.
Think about whether you’re solving more problems than you’re creating.
Think about what you’re focusing your time and effort on. Focus first on what you can control – yourself, your choices, your behavior – then on what you can influence, your team, your peers, the choices of your organization. John Maxwell, author of over 40 best-selling books on leadership says that leadership is influence, nothing more, and nothing less.
Think about the people who’ll be impacted by a decision, and involve them in the decision-making process as early as possible. Be a connector of people. Leadership sometimes means making decisions that force people to take sides – if you strive to connect people more than you separate them, if you include people in prioritizing, planning, and preparation, if you reach out to people that others sometimes overlook, if you focus on relationships that build people up, you’ll be a leader people want to follow.
Think about what a great leader would do – better yet, think about what your replacement would do. What would the next chair of this group, the next president of this organization, the next leader in this team do? When you’re faced with a difficult decision, think about what the next person in your position would do, because, at some point, there will be a new leader, a new manager, a new executive team. Why wait until they’re in office to make a change that’s needed, to take a chance, to fix something that’s broken? Think about what an effective leader, or what the next leader, would do to give yourself perspective, so that you can make the decisions that will keep your organization moving forward, even when it’s not the easiest path.
Reflect on your leadership.

Finally, this last point is perhaps the most important of all.
Ask yourself, “What story do I want to tell?”
You saw clips this week from the movie Mr. Holland’s Opus. As leaders, we can’t always see that we’re having any impact, that we’re doing any good that will last. But, you saw the lasting impact that Mr. Holland had on his students when they came back to play one last performance – the red-headed clarinet player who grew up to be Governor, and dozens more. We don’t all get a moment of closure like that, but we all get a story to tell.
Five years from now, ten or twenty years from now, you’ll have a story about “when I was…” something. “When I was the team captain”, “when I was president of that club”, “when I was in charge” – think about the story you want to be able to tell. The Cherokee called this the Long Life Perspective – Master Cherokee Storyteller Eric Jolly taught me this principle almost 20 years ago, and it’s served me well in my leadership journey. Picture yourself in old age, and think about how your actions now will impact who you become, how others see you, and what you’re able to accomplish.
It’s too easy to get caught up in the moment and lose sight of how our choices impact our future and the future of those around us, whether in our organizations, our peer groups, or even our families. The Long Life Perspective just asks you to step out of the moment, look out to the horizon, and think about the long-term view – we call this the ‘big picture’. Pastor and Leadership Author Andy Stanley puts it this way: He says, “Never make a decision that will make you a liar for life.” Never make a decision that will make you change your story, never make a decision that you hope no one will ever find out about. That doesn’t mean never make a bad decision, or never make a decision you’ll regret – our mistakes and even our regrets are sometimes our most instructive stories. Rather, never make a decision that you’re ashamed of. Make decisions that add to your story. Make choices that you’ll be proud of, or that you’ll laugh about with your friends, or that will build your team, your organization, your university for the long-term.
Ask yourself “How do I want people to remember my time as a leader? How do I want others to remember me? How do I want to look back on this time and the role I played in my organization and in the lives of the people around me?”.
What story do you want to tell…?

Three points:
Study Leadership.
Reflect on your leadership.
Ask yourself, “What story do I want to tell?”
Do those three things – remember the lessons you learned this week, think about them as you lead your organizations going forward, and focus on building a story worth telling, and you’ll be a leader people want to follow. You’ll think back to the L3:Summit for the rest of your life, and you’ll Leave a Legacy of Leadership.
Thank you.

About Bryson Payne

Author of Teach Your Kids to Code, Speaker, and Professor of Computer Science at the University of North Georgia.

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