2/1/2001 | 4 MINUTE READ

No Pomp, Lots of Circumstance

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Although GM executive Mark Hogan was providing some insights to graduates during a commencement address, his approaches are beneficial to those of us for whom university just means class reunions...


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George Bernard Shaw once opined, "Youth is wasted on the young." A corollary to that is that "Commencement speeches are wasted on the graduates." This is not to disparage the grads. After all, they are to be congratulated. But let's face it: When you're 22 years old and sitting there with a mortar board lid on, the last thing that you have in mind is taking notes on whatever the speaker has to say. You're looking forward to busting out and celebrating.

It might be more appropriate if we could get a commencement-like speech mid-career, when we really need to hear some words of inspiration.

This past December, Mark T. Hogan, General Motors group vice president and president of e-GM, gave the commencement speech at Northwestern University, Medill School of Journalism's Integrated Marketing Communications graduate program.

During the speech, he stated, "I always tell my team members at GM that simple is better. If you don't believe it, don't say it. And if you do believe it, say it with your heart." With a due measure of sincerity, Hogan provided the graduates with 10 recommendations regarding leadership. These points are something that we should all keep in mind as we do our jobs—in fact, they're the sort of thing that should lead you to cut out this page and attach it to the wall in front of your desk so that you keep them in mind as you go about your daily travails.

So, without further ado, here are Hogan's recommendations:


e-GM's Hogan recommends taking a proactive approach to one's work life: "In business, a person's worth can be determined by their willingness to continually learn new skills and take on new responsibilities."
  1. It's always better to seek forgiveness than ask permission. Anyone who has ever worked for me knows this is how I operate. You shouldn't be reckless. Rather, you must be prudent, but if you always wait for permission, you will accomplish little.
  2. Sometimes you may get people mad, and that's OK. Trying to get everyone to like you breeds mediocrity. It is inevitable that some people will get angry about the decisions you make, but don't avoid the tough decisions just because some people won't like them.
  3. It's important to be accessible. Break down the barriers to upward communications. I can't stand layer upon layer of hierarchy. I try to be accessibleand available for anyone in the organization.
  4. Value speed and innovation. I've worked to create a culture that nurtures and encourages innovation in everything we do, with execution faster than anyone else. Good ideas never executed have no value.
  5. Be yourself and expect those working for you to do the same. At e-GM, I don't want blind obedience and I have no need for yes-men. I want people who can challenge me, just like I challenge them.
  6. Remember, the ‘devil is in the details.' Oscar Hammerstein once wrote about a helicopter ride he took in New York Harbor. As he circled the Statue of Liberty, he saw every braid and every curl of her hair was perfectly carved. He remembered the statue was erected in 1886, before airplanes existed. As far as the statue's builders knew, no one would ever see the top of her head—but they gave it just as much time and care as the rest of the statue. What's the learning in this? If you only consider those things that people can see, then you will miss the more important things that they can feel.
  7. Remember: People make things happen. The best plans in the world mean nothing without people to execute them. I try to surround myself with the brightest, most creative individuals around. My goal is to always create an environment where the best, most talented people want to be. If you have respect for people and always keep your promises, you will be a leader, regardless of your title in the company.
  8. Challenge the old, comfortable ways of doing things. Never get too comfortable, and always look for opportunities to improve your situation. In business, a person's worth can be determined by their willingness to continually learn new skills and take on new responsibilities.
  9. Give your enthusiasm to the world every day! I firmly believe the ripple effect of attitude can be very powerful.
  10. This is the most important lesson and sadly the one least often practiced. Cheer each other on! When something great happens, celebrate! When something small happens that made a big difference, celebrate! People need to know the work they are doing has made a difference, and how will they know if you don't tell them? You will spend a lot of time at work during your lifetime. Don't spend it in misery. Look for reasons to celebrate and have fun at work.

If more of us followed his recommendations, not only would we do better work, more challenging and engaging work, and get more done, but we'd also have an exceedingly better time doing it.