A Glimpse of Graduation

Leia Bell

Master of Business Administration — Cohort

Iris KwongGood evening fellow graduates, faculty, and guests.

Today represents the culmination of all the hard work and long hours that you have put into your graduate education. Today signals that you are ready to venture out into the real world. Some of you are setting out from the safety of the university walls for the first time. For others, this is your second time to set out into the working world.

Hopefully, if you've been looking for one, you have found a J-O-B. Even better, I hope that you have found a career, something that will push you to grow and further develop the skills you have acquired during your time at the School of Management at The University of Texas at Dallas. And I hope, as a graduate and representative of UT Dallas, that you will become a leader in your chosen field.

If you've taken an organizational behavior course, you'll have debated whether leaders are born or made. You'll have memorized the different theoretical models for the exam and then promptly forgotten them. You'll rack your brain for examples of your leadership abilities when you go in for job interviews.

In the flurry of classes, exams, and group projects, it's easy to forget the important role of leadership in our daily lives. But it is my sincere hope that, as you leave the university, you will put a few very basic leadership principles to work every day and that those principles will serve you well. Faculty, staff, and students here at UTD have communicated and reinforced these principles with me, and today I wish to impart them to you.

You don't need to be a CEO to be a leader. Neither will you suddenly become a leader when you are given an authoritative title. As long as you have some ability to influence people, you are a leader, and you should be continuously developing your leadership skills.

First, do what you say you're going to do, when and how you say you're going to do it. Sounds simple, right? But you'd be surprised how few people actually do that. In the era of Google and instant access to information, it's almost too easy to procrastinate. In university, if you throw together a paper at the last minute, the grade you get on it only affects you. In the real world, you're no longer responsible for only yourself. You're responsible for making your boss and your organization look good, and you won't last very long if you fail to do so.

Second, author John Maxwell says you need to "know when to compete and when to complete." Many of you are likely competitive people — I know I am. We want to perform better than the next person, and we want to be recognized for doing so. We put in long hours practicing, studying, and learning, all to be able to do more, better, than someone else. Healthy competition is important. It pushes us to better ourselves as individuals and it drives us to perform. But it's important to recognize "when to complete" — that is, when we have to support others and give them a chance to shine if it is in the best interests of the team. If you haven't learned the importance of teamwork through the countless group projects you've had to do here, you will learn it soon.

Don't fudge the numbers. Don't say you're going to do something, and then not do it. Don't say you did something that you didn't. You might sneak it by in the short run, but sooner or later you'll get caught, and everything you and the people you were leading had been working for will collapse.

Third, recognize the value different people have to offer. Develop relationships. Empower others — they will reward you for it. Don't bash people behind their backs and don't exploit them to benefit yourself. Nothing will trash a reputation of a leader faster than the people he is supposed to be leading — and a leader without people isn't much of a leader. To borrow from marketing — you want to protect the brand, arid your reputation is your brand. Do you really want to instigate off negative PR that will destroy your credibility?

Fourth, be ethical. If Enron and all the failures of the first half of the decade taught us anything, it's don't lie. Don't fudge the numbers. Don't say you're going to do something, and then not do it. Don't say you did something that you didn't. You might sneak it by in the short run, but sooner or later you'll get caught, and everything you and the people you were leading had been working for will collapse.

Fifth, take responsibility for your actions. It's easier to turn failures into successes than it is to turn excuses into successes. If your product has lead in it, and you know about it, you better pull it off the shelf. You may take a hit in the short run, but in the long run, you will be recognized and rewarded for doing the right thing.

Make sure you remember the most important driver of leadership: Vision. As Theodore Hesburgh said, "the very essence of leadership is that you have to have vision. You can't blow an uncertain trumpet." Leaders have a vision that they share, they determine a direction, and they make things happen by working with other people.

Finally, make sure you remember the most important driver of leadership: Vision. As Theodore Hesburgh said, “the very essence of leadership is that you have to have vision. You can't blow an uncertain trumpet.” Leaders have a vision that they share, they determine a direction, and they make things happen by working with other people. If you're an accountant, you're not going to be able to have the same level of vision as the CEO, but you'll still have some leeway to positively improve the situation for the people you work for and with.

Remember to apply these principles every day. Little things can add up. You may not set out to change the world — you may be more focused on finding a job to pay the rent right now — but you have the potential, and UTD has given you the tools, to go out there and make things better. Best of luck.

Congratulations, Class of 2007.

Leia Bell graduated from UT Dallas with two undergraduate degrees at once – earning Summa Cum Laude honors in both. She was then selected for the Cohort MBA program, the degree she will receive this evening.

During her undergraduate years at UT Dallas, Leia was active as the executive chair of the SUAAB. During her MBA studies she has worked as Coordinator for the UT Dallas Eugene McDermott Scholars Program.

Leia has been selected as one of 15 students to enter the GEICO Emerging Leaders Program – a three-year corporate rotation and management training program that includes shadowing senior executives.