In today’s leadership post, Mr. Mike reminds us that leaders cannot be successful without a toolbox of soft skills (please read anything by Daniel Goleman). I am a big admirer of Amazon and I think its one of the “four horsemen” – the vanguard of the business world at this moment in time. (The other three are Apple, Google, and Facebook).
What I find interesting is Mr. Bezos, I leader I admire for his market place creativity and foresight, is not overtly known for being “kind.” It will not take much of a Google search to find stories of neutron Jack Welsh/Steve Jobsian like attacks by Mr. Bezos on subordinates. I guess we all have or moments and I’ve been known to blow my top every now and then. At least Mr. Bezos is cognizant of the power of soft skills and he did a nice job at this Princeton University graduation address.
Mr. Mike, the floor is yours…
To: The Great Leaders Who Have a Passion for Continuous Learning
In his Princeton University graduation address in June 2010, Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and President and CEO, shares his insights and perspectives on character. He believes that its substance is not found in the natural gifts we were each given at birth, rather is formed by the choices, deliberate or unintentional, we make over a lifetime.
In his introduction he tells the story of a caravan ride with his grandfather and grandmother during a summer vacation. His grandmother was a smoker and he hated the smell. During the course of the ride he always tried to keep himself busy making calculations of one sort or another. He had heard somewhere that for every puff on a cigarette, two minutes get taken from your life. So he took about his calculation. When he had finished, with the exuberance and expectation that he would be applauded for his cleverness and keen mathematical skills, he told his grandmother: “At two minutes per puff, you’ve taken nine years off of your life.” Instead of applause, his grandmother burst into tears. His grandfather pulled off the road and said to him: “Jeff, one day you will understand that it is harder to be kind than clever.”
He learned that day: “Cleverness is a gift; kindness is a choice. Gifts are easy, they are given after all. Choices can be hard, you can seduce yourselves with your gifts if you are not careful, and if you do, it will probably be to the detriment of your choices.” We all have incredible talents and skills that can be used to change the world. More importantly, however, is how we choose to use and apply these gifts. Bezos concluded his address with the following questions and a statement:
“How will you use your gifts? What choices will you make?
Will inertia be your guide, or will you follow your passions?
Will you follow dogma, or will you be original?
Will you choose a life of ease, or a life of service and adventure?
Will you wilt under criticism, or will you follow your convictions?
Will you bluff it out when you’re wrong, or will you apologize?
Will you guard your heart against rejection, or will you act when you fall in love?
Will you play it safe, or will you be a little bit swashbuckling?
When it’s tough, will you give up, or will you be relentless?
Will you be a cynic, or will you be a builder?
Will you be clever at the expense of others, or will you be kind?
“I will hazard a prediction. When you are 80 years old, and in a quiet moment of reflection, narrating for only yourself the most personal version of your life story, the telling that will be most compact and meaningful will be the series of choices you have made. In the end, we are our choices.”
Yes, each of us is the author of our own life’s story – a life that we choose in each decision we make. Heed the gentle exhortation of Jeff Bezos in his final words: “Build yourself a great story!” May yours be a magnificent one – filled with incredible joy, beauty and happiness, enriched by fully exercising the unique gifts you have been given, and deepened by your service to others.
Have a beautiful day and a magnificent week!!!
Michael M. Reuter
Director, Center for Leadership Development
Stillman School of Business
Seton Hall University
Tel: (Office) 973.275.2528