Excerpts from Dr. Marian Gryzlo’s keynote speech at the St. John Fisher Doctoral Program in Executive Leadership where she earned her doctorate, at the hooding ceremony on March 21, 2015
We’ve studied many leadership theories and leaders in the past three years—trying to understand the million-dollar question. What makes a great leader? We probably would each come up with a different answer to that question –based on what we’ve experienced, who we are, where we’ve been and where we are going. Today, I am doing to discuss perspective, transformation and change as they relate to leadership.
Steve Jobs, one of many leaders we studied, gave a powerful speech at Stamford’s graduation in 2005, not long after he had battled and survived cancer. His words left a lasting impression, and to date his speech has received over 21 million views on YouTube. He told graduates that:
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future… Because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well-worn path.” He said “Do what you believe is GREAT WORK.”
Today, I am going to invite all of you to take a moment to think about what your GREAT WORK is or will be— and to think back about those dots that connected.
I’d like to share with you a story, from Perfect Square by Michael Hall. It’s about a perfect, happy, red paper square. If you can just picture in your mind a 2-dimensional, flat square.
One day, unexpectedly, the square was cut into pieces and poked full of holes. So what did it do? That formerly perfect square—made itself into a fountain that had beautiful streams of water flowing from it. So the quick thinking square made itself into a lovely flower garden from the scraps. Then–
- The square was shredded into strips—
- So it rearranged into a beautiful park where children played
- Still being tested, the square was snipped into ribbons-so it rearranged itself into a deep running river
- As if it that was not enough, the square was shattered completely- just like a broken mirror
But it gathered its pieces and rearranged itself into a sturdy bridge
- These unexpected challenges and changes kept coming at the square—
It was crumpled, ripped and wrinkled.
But it rallied one more time, and made itself into a tall, strong mountain.
- It had experienced so many changes, and been through so much-but kept reinventing itself, growing from each seemingly impossible situation
- Finally, it was now back to being a perfect red square.— But here is the kicker. It was not happy anymore. The red square felt confined by its four sides-and cramped by rigid corners
It could not and would not go back to being just a square—–So what did it do? The square transformed itself into a window—-That looked at a mountain that gave birth to a river, crossed by a bridge, that led to a park that was home to a garden that had a lovely flowing fountain.
We all came into this program as our own versions of perfect squares. And we have all shared professional and life experiences that may have felt like we were being torn apart-As leaders, it is often hard— Dr. Claudia Edward said —“Sometimes the right thing is not the easy thing.” Simple, powerful words for leaders.
We also studied many complex issues about the state of the world— poverty, inequality, racism, sexism, scandal, deceit, crime and even redemption—We were sometimes torn up as we debated these problems, but as we studied the issues, we were no longer content to stay on the sidelines. We slowly and surely were being developed as executive leaders and agents of social and organizational change.
Many of us faced personal situations that seemed to shatter us at the time—but we built our own bridges to others in our class who became like our family. We withstood the pressure, and like the square, transformed. And when we felt crumpled, and wrinkled, hanging on by a thread we “trusted the process.” We rallied—moving mountains to accomplish our goals. And we began to see our own organizations thorough a new set of eyes.
We are all leaving here today as windows. We have developed competencies from the challenging curriculum and work we have achieved. We have developed empathy by studying and debating issues related to social injustice and looking at issues from many different frames. We have developed courage, from knowing that the toughest problems we face as leaders will challenge us-but not defeat us.
The great French painter Henri Mattise said, “To look at something as though we had never seen it before requires great courage.” Mattise was not afraid to change the colors of the sky, the sun or the ocean. He was willing to step into the unknown, experiment and take risks, as we have been trained.
In the Leadership Challenge, Kouzes and Posner state that as leaders, our hearts, minds and souls are all necessary in order for us to paint a compelling vision, make tough decisions, and develop others. They also said we need “deep competence and cool confidence” to achieve our grand dreams. Now, we now stand ready to be transformational leaders.
As leaders, we now have the vision to see clearly through the windows we have become, to view the challenges of our worlds with empathy and to serve with confidence and competence. The dots have connected.