2014 Commencement Speeches Touch on Essence of Leadership, Motivation


Dads and Grads, it’s that time again! At TeleSmart, all of our kids are grown adults or toddlers—so no ceremonies for us! But that only means we get to dream of their future or remember their past glories. And there are always some great lessons to be taken from the top performers each year. Last year, Dick Costolo reminded us of the power of strong introductions—definitely an essential inside sales skill.

The list of 2014 commencement speakers brings together a mix of comedians, business leaders, journalists, celebrities, and a few political figures. That’s pretty standard, as is the string of controversial speakers and protests that accompany them. The Washington Post notes that “There have been at least 145 instances,” of speakers withdrawing, getting uninvited, or protested “since 1987, with almost 100 of those coming in the last five years.” But it certainly keeps things interesting!

We’re already under way with the 2014 graduation season and some interesting commencement speeches are already in the books. This year, there have been some great speeches for inside sales managers that get at the essence of leadership and motivation:

Sean “P. Diddy” Combs – Combs’ invitation to Howard University brought its share ofcontroversy because Combs is actually a Howard dropout—not to mention that his art isn’t exactly academics-oriented. But, just like a great salesperson doesn’t always make a great sales manager, a lack of a college degree doesn’t necessarily mean anything about Combs value as a motivator or leader for the current grads. His speech was a memorable and personal talk about his life, struggles, and relationship with Howard that communicated some of the university’s values and helped the grads reflect on their own journeys. He had what it takes to inspire that group. Can your leaders say the same?

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Jeff Bauman and Carlos Arredondo – Boston’s Fisher College invited two icons of last year’s Boston Marathon bombings: a bombing victim who lost his legs and the passerby who helped rescue him. They’re not the type of speakers who are going to talk about major business success or dispense advice on how to convert that degree into a good paycheck. But their story can’t fail to inspire the audience to take a fresh perspective on life’s struggles into the “real world.” How often do your sales leaders bring a fresh perspective to your team?

Dr. Atul Gawande – Gawande—a doctor and writer—tells a great story about how the struggle of young cancer patients reveals the essence of motivation and manages to deliver a very inspirational speech at the same time. It highlights the amazing influence and wisdom of teams, which I’ve written about recently. It’s a definite must-watch for leaders everywhere!

Check out some of the best commencement speeches of all time, via USA today.

I’m definitely going to be watching for some of these upcoming commencement speakers. How about you? Drop some suggestions in the comments, or on Twitter –#commencement – and watch for more commencement commentary here!

Josiane Feigon is a pioneer, maverick, and visionary in the inside sales community, and is one of the Forbes Top 30 Social Salespeople in the World. She is the author of Smart Sales Manager and the best-selling Smart Selling on the Phone and Online and the founder of TeleSmart Communications, a leader in developing inside sales teams and managers. For more on inside sales strategies and trends, subscribe to Josiane's blog and sign up for her Email Newsletter. If you need weekly injections of inspiration and motivation, sign up for the Smart Selling Motivational Texts