Optimism and 'relentless preparation' are hallmarks of leaders, says Giuliani

In an age when information is available in seconds from all over the world, young people must develop the ability to think for themselves and hone their leadership skills, said former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani May 28. He was speaking at Senior Convocation in Schoellkopf Stadium as part of the university's 143rd Graduation Weekend.

The tremendous technological advances that have given rise to instant communication challenge our ability to analyze, process and think, he said, and "It's much more important than ever before to develop the principles of leadership," he added.

The most important element of leadership, he noted, is the ability to hold strong beliefs. He cited Franklin D. Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan as examples of the best leaders among the 20th-century American presidents, because they set goals based on their beliefs and led the country in definitive directions.

Giuliani said he agreed with the Greek philosophers who believed one could achieve happiness by contributing to society. "That's why you should be developing a set of goals, things you want to accomplish and constantly asking yourself: 'What am I good at; what can I achieve?'"

The second principle of leadership is optimism, which he defined as the ability to solve problems. He urged the graduates to train themselves to identify not only challenges but also potential solutions. Third, recognize courage and find it in oneself, he said. Contrary to what most people believe, courage is not fearlessness. Rather, it is the ability to channel the energy generated by fear into the fourth principle: "relentless preparation," he said.

He learned the value of relentless preparation, he said, from Cornellian Lloyd MacMahon '36, J.D. '38, the U.S. district judge for the Southern District of New York, for whom Giuliani clerked after graduating from law school. For every hour Giuliani spent in court as a trial lawyer, MacMahon insisted he prepare for four hours, to anticipate every possible scenario.

That was the lesson that helped him the most, Giuliani said, in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. As mayor of New York City, he was able to quickly make decisions to prepare hospitals, prevent traffic from flowing into Manhattan and install generators at Ground Zero -- and many other actions -- thanks to plans that were already in place for dealing with other types of emergencies, such as flu epidemics and hurricanes.

MacMahon also taught him to value teamwork and find people who could help compensate for his weaknesses. As mayor he needed help understanding the city's economic situation, so he created a team to teach him, Giuliani said.

Last, he urged the graduates to communicate with the people they will lead. Most important, he said, is to be available when things go wrong, not just for colleagues but also for friends and family. They, not the government, will provide the graduates with the most secure safety net if the graduates do the same for them.

"Happiness in life is not just about your being what you want to be. Happiness in life is figuring out how you fit into this vast society, how you make your contribution," he said.

Also at Convocation, Senior Class President Michael Katz spoke of the ability to bridge differences as the signal characteristic of a Cornellian. And Class of 2011 Alumni Co-Presidents Jeffrey Stulmaker and Alina Zolotareva thanked President David Skorton for allocating $100,000 to endow a Class of 2011 scholarship. (Read about the Class of 2011's senior class campaign.)

The Cornell University Glee Club and Chorus ended the program by singing "Happy Birthday" to Giuliani, who turned 67 today.

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Claudia Wheatley