A crash course in leadership
Don R. Clarke has held a number of successful leadership positions. On Monday he shared tips with Treasure Mountain International Middle School students to help them, as he said, "gain a vision of what you can become."
His talk was in line with the Utah Scholars Initiative, a $300,000 grant given to four school districts in the state, which encourages students to take a more challenging curriculum.
Clarke is the former president of Lord & Taylor and also former chairman and CEO of Caldor Corporation, a Fortune 500 company. He is currently the Guatemala area president for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
"Leaders aren’t born, they’re made," he told students.
It is a skill that can be learned and a person’s future is determined by what they do today, he said.
"You have to start living today what your dreams are," he said.
One of his first suggestions to students was to call the college they dream of attending and introduce themselves. He said they should ask what requirements they need to fill to get accepted and start working toward those.
"What leaders do is they breathe their vision," he said.
Part of what helps them accomplish that is the company they keep. Leaders surround themselves with people who are better and smarter than they are, he said. Clarke used a sports team analogy explaining that given a choice, most people would pick to be on a team of players who were better at the sport than they are versus worse.
Great leaders also acknowledge the accomplishments of those around them and give credit where it is due, he said.
They also help inspire people to excel and be the best they can.
One important step students can take in becoming a leader is to educate themselves, and also look at what the world needs in terms of services so they can study that in college.
"I would have liked to study to become a professional basketball player but my chances of becoming a professional basketball player are slim, zero and negative three," he said.
Another key, Clarke said, is to love to work. A lot of young people in this generation have not learned that yet, he said.
"Learn to work. I always had a job, I put myself through college," he said.
He coached his daughter in running and always told her to run with her heart, then with her head and then with her feet. While there may have been faster runners, not many beat her. Clarke advises students to take a similar approach to work.
"You’re going to spend most of your waking hours working learn to love to work," he said.
Most successful people are not necessarily the most intelligent, he said, but they are the ones who know how to apply themselves. They also take responsibility for their actions and are accountable.
In high school, Clarke said he was in a geometry class and got a B. When he spoke to the teacher, Clarke learned that the grade was lower than an A because he talked too much in class. Rather than argue with the teacher, he asked if he performed at the same level and did not talk in class again would he get an A the next time. When his teacher said yes to this Clarke moved his chair to the corner and did not speak to friends during class. He got an A on his next report card.
"I learned that I was responsible for what I did and what I received," he said. "Generally you determine your success."
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