Emerging Leaders Academy Graduation Speech: Mike Rounds

Celebrate: congratulate – give yourself a hand, you deserve it.

Honor: Thank you for having me today – I have heard a lot about the Emerging Leaders Academy and it is an honor to be able to share in your graduation ceremony today. One of my team mates in the KU HR Department is a graduate of ELA and I asked her what advice she had to prepare for my discussion with you today. As I expected, she provided some terrific suggestions. First she emphasized to be mindful of the diversity of the participants who come from a broad range of organizations across the greater Kansas City area (and not just KU). When I was reviewing the list of graduates, I was very impressed by the number of organizations represented and I am confident that the opportunity to share insights on the culture and strengths of each of your organizations has been an important part of your program. The network that you have established will also serve you well in the future.

She also recommended that I point out that, while attendance in ELA is an amazing opportunity, it is only one step in your personal and professional development responsibility that comes with a lifetime of public service. I have worked in the public sector for over 35 years and about 25% of that time I have been involved at some level in part or full time professional development. While all of us are extremely busy, I hope that you are already thinking about what you need to do next to continue to grow. One thing that is certain, and something I am sure that you have discussed during the program, is change – as the world has changed around me, I have felt compelled to evolve with it. I have been fortunate that I have always worked for organizations and leaders who place a high value on professional development and, the fact that you are here, is evidence that your organizations do as well.

Most important, Traci thought it would be useful to share a couple thoughts on leadership with you. I have spent my adult life studying and practicing leadership. Before I share my thoughts on leadership principles, I have come to 2 conclusions. First, while leadership principles are generally relatively straight forward, the practice or implementation of those principles is the most complex activity most of us will ever be involved in. As I mentioned, our environment is always changing and we have to be agile enough to take the principles we believe in and shape them to the situation in front of us. Now that I am working in the HR sector, we joke sometimes that our jobs would be simple if they didn’t involve people – but committing to life in the public sector is all about serving people and the complexities that go with that service. Second, growing my own leadership skills has been a journey and not a destination. I am closer to the end of my professional life than the beginning, but even so, my current position has demanded that I continue to grow. In a University environment, a premium is placed on collaboration and I have had to adjust this new environment. By adjusting, I have grown to appreciate the power associated with productive collaboration even though it is a new environment for me.

Since I have been to quite a few graduations and my suspicion is that you would prefer that I stop talking sooner rather than later, the vignettes that I want to share with you are very brief, but they illustrate 3 things that are fundamental to my beliefs and serve as the foundation of my leadership style.

  1. Anne’s story: Never underestimate the abilities of others.
  2. West Point epiphany: The power of dignity and respect.
  3. The baseball coach: Doing what you have a passion for.

I recommend that each of you should have a few fundamentals that govern how you lead as these principles influence how I think. The fact that you take the time to understand what is most important to you enhances the probability that you will stick to these principles even under pressure. As I mentioned, I would expect that your fundamental leadership beliefs will continue to evolve.

-At this point, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out, on behalf of the graduates, that it is important to remember and thank those that have made this opportunity possible:




-I hope as you depart with your families today that you will get an early start on your 4th of July festivities – as I thought about it, it is an appropriate time for you to be concluding your program since it connects you directly back to the public servants who founded the nation. I suspect, however, that many of you will be serving your communities over the 4th so your great communities can celebrate safely.

Finally (really) I would like to conclude with some thoughts from Rudyard Kipling’s poem If. There are a couple of excerpts that I feel capture what it means to be a public servant and the selfless service that goes with it. Many years ago Kipling suggested:

If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

But make allowances for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

Or, being lied about, but don’t deal in lies,

Or, being hated, but don’t give way to hating

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

Or walk with kings and not lose the common touch;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it.

Congratulations and I hope that each of you head back to your organizations confident that you are prepared for your next unforgiving minute – whatever it may be.