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PAUL TOKASZ

tokazThank you for the kind introduction and for this opportunity to say a few words to a group of students who are making their way through the rigors of college as student athletes.

I was in your cleats, a few years ago. Truth be known, it was more than a few years ago, but who's counting? I played baseball and football while here at Hobart, and I must say that the lessons I learned on the playing field were nearly as influential in my choice of a career in public service as the lessons I learned in class. My professors who graded me would probably vouch for that admission.

Following my graduation from Hobart, I obtained a masters degree in education from Buffalo State College. I was passionate about becoming a teacher, and I taught in the Buffalo public schools for several years before taking another path in public service. I still look back on my years in the classroom with great fondness and reverence for the teaching profession. There are few careers that I believe are as rewarding as teaching.

After teaching for a few years, I became interested in politics, and accepted an appointed position in the Erie County clerk's office. I served as a deputy commissioner to the first woman clerk in Erie County history, Genevieve Starosciak. To this day, she is remembered both as a trailblazer for women who pursue public office, and a public servant who served with competence and integrity throughout her long career. It was a privilege to "play" on her team.

Some years later, the incumbent assemblyman in my hometown of Cheektowaga, just east of Buffalo, won the office of Erie County Executive. I was recruited to run as his successor. Although the position meant I would be spending half of my time in Albany and away from my family, I accepted the challenge. It was an opportunity to influence state matters as a policymaker. I could now have a voice in issues I cared deeply about, like education, health care and opportunities for young people.

I strongly believe that those who are called to be in the "arena" should answer the call. In the words of Teddy Roosevelt, "credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood…who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat…". I would add the words "or woman" to reflect the countless women in leadership roles today. But the bottom line is, the public arena is a tough place, and those who enter it should do so for the right reasons, not simply for personal advancement.

That being said, I want to comment on Time Magazine's recent selection of three "whistleblowers" -- all women -- as its persons of the year.

Time just celebrated the 75th anniversary of its "person of the year" edition. Typically, this edition recognizes gifted, powerful and iconic figures -- statesmen, visionaries, heroes and even tyrants.

Persons of the year have included such diverse personalities as Pope John Paul II, Albert Einstein, Queen Elizabeth II, Lyndon Johnson, Deng Xiaoping, Adolf Hitler and many others -- both luminaries and villains -- whose names are imprinted on our collective memories and taught in our history classes. Juxtapose that against the year 2002. Who had ever heard of Cynthia Cooper of Worldcom, Colleen Riley of the FBI or Sherron Watkins of Enron?

By choosing unknown individuals who soon became household names in the scandal-ridden year of 2002, Time Magazine was making a statement about the character of the three persons of the year as opposed to their celebrity. Instead of emphasizing the "person" of a leader, Time recognized the "character" of leadership. These are all strong women in important positions in their organizations. Each of them tried to effectuate change internally first.

As different as the backgrounds are of these three women, what is striking to the reader of the interview with Cynthia, Colleen and Sherron are the similarities in their experiences and their values -- and how their actions, under difficult even threatening circumstances, showed their persistence in "following" their moral compass.

All three shed light on serious malfeasance or miscommunication in their respective organizations. They sent red flags up, first internally. When a remedy could not be found inside of their organizations, they took the courageous step of exposing their discoveries to the outside world.

Why they did so is best answered by the whistleblowers themselves. To quote Cynthia Cooper, "there's a responsibility for all Americans -- teachers, mothers, fathers, college professors, corporate people -- to help and make sure the moral and ethical fabric of the country is strong."

This, ultimately, is the caliber of leadership that may be required of every citizen, regardless of job title. It is an understatement to say that the lives of these three whistleblowers have been easy after they came forward with evidence of wrong-doing or miscommunication that cost millions of dollars to investors, including their companies' own employees, and, possibly, thousands of lives as in the case of the FBI.

The Time Magazine tribute is one example of how even the mightiest of organizations can be brought down by their own lies and cover-ups. It is a new day on Wall Street. Stockholders are more wary of company claims of profits. They question the relationship of analysts to their "stock picks". Regulators are paying more attention to the overall environment of the stock market, and are recognizing the very serious consequences of oversight inaction on the health of our national economy. We can no longer afford lackadaisical oversight in the affairs of public companies. Red flags must be spotted and investigated sooner.

The houses of cards that were built on foundations of false financial statements tumbled down, taking with them retirement savings, college savings, and not-for-profit foundation investments. Good, honest people by the thousands were injured by misguided, dishonest people. We are still reeling from the impact of the Enron and Worldcom implosions.

There was something very wrong with the leadership in those two companies. There was something very wrong in the FBI when field agents could not get urgent, terrorist-related information to key policymakers in Washington prior to September 11.

If the communications climate at the FBI had been different from what we now know is the case, the computer of Zacarias Moussaoui --"hijacker number 20" -- may have been searched by agents in time to thwart the suicide missions of September 11. We will never know. But, we know that the organizations charged with protecting the public can ill afford not to imagine the worst, not to act on those hunches, not to put those puzzle pieces together. Especially when they point to a pattern of suspicious behavior by individuals already being watched by the FBI. Homeland security is critical. It will cost our treasuries billions and it will challenge us to ensure that while protecting our state and nation our civil liberties are not trampled.

I want to spend the rest of my time with you focusing on how you can apply some of the lessons we have learned from these national tragedies and use them in your own lives, particularly when you graduate and enter the work force. The call to ethics and integrity among our future leaders has never been louder, and I am happy to say that there are many efforts underway nationally to foster a new generation of leaders whose ethical standards will be grounded more firmly in the bedrock of moral certainty.

I would like to give you some insights into a new style of leadership that is being honed in our nation. These insights are attributed to Joan Lloyd, who works out of Milwaukee.

After studying successful leaders for years, Joan Lloyd published the following observations:

<blockquote>"Leaders are courageous. When times are tough and hard decisions need to be made, they step forward and make the call. While others are running for cover, they are willing to do what they think is Right and take responsibility for the outcome.

Leaders can envision the future and are able to help others see it too. They believe so strongly in Their picture of the future that their steps are a decisive march in that direction and their actions leave a clear path to follow.

Leaders add value. Rather than take the easy way out, they look for problems to solve and apply themselves to untangling the mess. They are willing to move laterally within the company or move to an undesirable area of the organization to get the job done.

Leaders are survivors. Rather than whine about unfairness, they empower themselves to do whatever it takes to rise above adversity. Being entitled or being victims are not on their radar screen.

Leaders believe in the inherent goodness and integrity of people. They treat their coworkers and employees as though they have the best intentions. This trust is rewarded more than it's betrayed because people want to live up to this trust in them.

Leaders are students who never stop learning. They read books, attend classes and seek advice from those who can teach them how to approach challenging situations. They study behavior and are observers of people and strategies. They view mistakes as opportunities to learn lessons and grow from that knowledge.

Leaders believe in serving others. They dedicate themselves to the outcome, not to personal recognition. Given the choice, they would rather see the team win and do not need to be the "star of the show." They always remember the adage "there is no 'i' in the word team.

Leaders are dependable. Everyone knows that their promise will be kept and a deadline will be met. Great leaders know that their word is the currency on which trust and credibility is built.

When they're wrong, leaders admit it and make it right. They don't blame others or faulty circumstances for their own mistakes. They have the backbone and the character to own up to their mistakes. Leaders don't wallow in their errors or seek reassurance -- they take it in stride and move on.

Leaders have integrity. Even if it's easy to take the road to personal gain, they won't go down that path if it is at the expense of someone else. They make decisions as though a room full of people was observing each action. Instead of doing what is fast and easy, they will slow the process, if necessary, to do what's right.
And, finally, leaders define success in their own terms. They don't let others make the rules for their own happiness. Often it's a balance of family life, personal achievement and doing good for others. They don't let other's "shoulds" and "musts" rule their choices. They make up their own minds and set the course for their own lives."</blockquote>

Now, some of you may be surprised at a few of the characteristics of leaders I've just described. You may not think that being a leader is synonymous with embracing the ideal of service or admitting you may be wrong.

But the opposite is true. To move our community and our nation in the direction they need to go, we must turn out leaders who do embrace many of the characteristics I've outlined -- like personal integrity, trusting others and being dependable themselves.

This emerging breed of leaders does not enjoy success at the expense of others. They do not step on others to elevate themselves. These new leaders always look to their moral compass for the direction they should take. They give more than lip service to community service.

They are truly and sincerely uncomfortable with basking in the limelight and hearing kudos for accomplishments when others, too, played a role. The new leaders are quick to give credit and visibility to others.

The words Bob Dylan sang, "the times, they are a changin'," ring true in this post-September 11th era. These times need new, stronger and committed leaders.

It is only in the service of others that we can truly emerge as leaders. It may be true that you cannot change the world. But, each of you can change your corner of it.

Colleen Rowley, Cynthia Cooper and Sherron Watkins did not change the world. But they did change their corner of it. They exposed wrongdoing that has had national ramifications.

Not everyone will be called to that level of "leadership moment". But if you are in the position to make a tough judgment call, will you err on the side of business-as-usual or will you place yourself "in the arena".

Responsible leadership is the only type of leadership that has value. No material belongings, no position of status, no amount of wealth is worth quieting the voice of your conscience.

The path to effective and ethical leadership is not an easy one. But it is a path that our future corporate, not-for-profit and government leaders need to take if we are to truly be a nation of ideals that serve as beacons of hope to the world.

So here at Hobart today, I urge you to contemplate the place you hope to occupy in your family, in your community and in your country. As president John F. Kennedy said in his inaugural address, "let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed, to a new generation of Americans…".

You are the new generation of Americans. Take the torch that burns for truth and integrity, justice and opportunity and hold it high. Do not shrink to the place of "cold and timid souls who do not know victory or defeat". Be torchbearers for your generation. Become leaders in whom we can all be proud.

I thank you for this opportunity to share these thoughts with you and wish all of you great success in the future.

 

INFORMATION

Napier Leadership Seminar Dinner Keynote Address, Assembly Majority Leader Paul A. Tokasz

Sunday, Feb. 2, 2003