Last week I spoke at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana; it's about an hour outside of Indianapolis. The students were friendly and down to earth. Most of them were receptive to my message. I had a lot of students come up to me after my talk and tell me that it made an impression on them - that alone is worth the airplane travel, the rental cars, the hotels, and the time away from my family.
The way I see it, they pay me to travel, not to speak. I would gladly do the speaking for free. The ability to change a student's outlook on leadership and life; to inspire them to be more and do more than they thought was possible; it's a responsibility and privilege that I don't take lightly. Every time I have the opportunity to get in front of a group of students, I am there to give my best presentation. I am constantly tweaking, enhancing, self-evaluating.
I used to be one of those people who thought that leaders had to be charismatic and the loudest voice in the room. Leaders had that "it factor." Whatever "it" was, I didn't have it. But experience taught me I was wrong.
Jim Collins, in "Good To Great," revealed that great companies usually don't have charismatic leaders, instead they usually have very much the opposite, which I wrote about here.
When I speak to college students, I make the case that above anything else, leaders must make the people under and around them feel valued and appreciated. They do this by being genuinely curious about other people, and having the courage to "take off their mask," allowing themselves to be vulnerable. They are also quick to offer praise and encouragement, and they do it in a very specific, structured way.
I learned all of this during my time as an officer in the Navy and then later as a Special Agent in the FBI. I also read "How to Win Friends and Influence People" by Dale Carnegie about 10 years ago - that had a lot of bearing on what I teach in my presentation, too.
College is a time when young adults learn about the world and also about themselves - who they are, and who they want to be. I challenge them to become a better version of themselves. To stop playing small.
I show them that leadership need not be so complicated. All it comes down to is giving people the emotional space to step into their greatness.