The Last Lecture

Every summer, I re-read the Last Lecture. It’s the only book I’ve read more than two times (5 now, to be exact), and every time it gets better. This time around, here are the three things that stood out to me:

1. “There is this skill set called ‘leadership’ … He [Captain Kirk] was the distilled essence of the dynamic manager, a guy who knew how to delegate, had the passion to inspire, and looked good in what he wore to work. He never professed to have skills greater than his subordinates. He acknowledged that they knew what they were doing in their own domains. But established the vision, the tone. He was in charge of morale.”

Ever since I first read this, I couldn’t agree more that leadership is a skill. It takes practice and can always be improved. Leaders aren’t always the smartest, strongest, or most skilled. In fact, I’d venture to say that the best leaders seldom are because they surround themselves with people who are better than them. But the reason they are leaders is because they know how to unite people behind a vision and inspire them to work together.

2. “That’s because nowhere in their [Disney’s] accounting system are they able to measure how a ten-dollar salt and pepper shaker might yield $100,000 … My message is this: There is more than one way to measure profits and losses. On every level, institutions can and should have a heart.”

As a recent business school graduate, I am very disappointed modern US business culture. Our priority is to increase shareholder value. “Successful” companies are the ones that bring in the most profit and most efficiently cut costs. The way I see it, the best companies keep profits in mind but don’t focus on them. Their priorities go beyond profits as they focus on making the world a better place. Three of my favorite companies are Costco, REI, and Southwest Airlines. I have only studied Costco and Southwest from the outside but have been very lucky to work for REI. There is no question all three care deeply for their employees and care for more than profits. Whatever company I lead in the future will prioritize making the world a better place and forwarding humanity.

3. “As I see it, a parent’s job is to encourage kids to develop a joy for life and a great urge to follow their own dreams. The best we can do is to help them develop a personal set of tools for the task. So my dreams for my kids are very exact: I want them to find their own path to fulfillment.”

I’ve done quite a bit of thinking on what kind of a father I want to be, and Randy Pausch has served one of my best role models. I’ve seen far too many parents push their kids in a direction only to have their kids grow up to be unhappy. I want to be a parent that equips my children so they can succeed in whatever they set out to do, one that empowers them to take the burden of success and fulfillment into their own hands.

This book has significantly impacted my life, and I have no doubt it will continue to impact my life with each time I revisit it. For those of you who haven’t read the book, I’d highly recommend watching the video version (the book is simply an extension of it).