By Peter McHale

TOAST: I am going to steal the words for my toast from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “The Future belongs to those who prepare for it.” And I am adding: The future belongs to you …….

First and foremost, congratulations on your significant achievement. We appreciate and recognize the significant effort and time you invested above and beyond your other responsibilities and demands. Hopefully time will prove it to be an investment that will return substantial dividends over the course of your careers.

I have to tell you though; this whole leadership stuff still bothers me. As a scientist, I am fascinated and troubled by this concept of leadership. After all, it can be extremely vague and ambiguous. Unfortunately, it can be rare. For me, it is constantly evolving. The more I try to learn about this elusive topic, the more questions I have.

My questions start with, “Why do we choose to follow someone?” My personal experience answers that question with one simple, but critical, word … Trust. I trust them to be a coach; to help improve my game and competence. I trust in their well-articulated vision. I trust that they possess skills, experience and insights that will help the team succeed in our mission. I trust they will have my back, by putting the intent of the mission and team before their own self-interest. And I trust that their humility hides some wonderful gems that will prove useful along our journey together. Boy, I am really trusting and expecting a lot … And I should.

Trust is built upon character. Character is built over time and validated through consistency in behavior and actions. Hopefully the character of the leader assures us that they will always do the right thing. Period. It’s that simple, but also that fragile.

I used to think that leadership was about standing in front. Sort of like, “follow me girls and boys!” I have learned that often it is about being in the background and sometimes invisible. Unless there is a crisis, let your teams be on stage, basking in the light. The coach doesn’t compete, play the game or win metals. They create the opportunity for others to do so.

Life has taught me that a good leader nourishes and extends what the team possesses and sometimes has to get out of the way. Good leaders touch people, but do not constrain or direct them. As William McKnight, the former CEO of 3M often said, “If you put fences around people, you get sheep.” We all know that sheep are easy to manage and lead, but will not generate the rupture results that we all seek and celebrate.

My last suggestion for the day is that I have learned I am at my best as a leader when I am in true service to others. In serving others, I serve the company, ourMission, Team and ultimately, myself.

So why choose to be a leader? It’s a great deal of work, responsibility, dealing with other people can be a pain in the ass. So why?

I choose not to work with sheep, but wild untamed horses for whom there are no limits to their dreams or achievements. They will take you on the chariot rides of your life full of excitement, danger, challenges, fulfillment and fun.

My sincere wish for each of you is to experience that exhilaration and high that leadership done right can, and does, bring. Be part of something so much bigger than yourself. Dream the impossible dream and then just do it. Or not … At the end of the day, the choice is yours.

Once again, congratulations and good luck!