Management guru tells grad students
that leadership springs from excellence © June 24, 2011, Norwich University Office of Communications

Noted management expert and author Tom Peters speaks at the School of Graduate and Continuing Studies' 2011 residency on Norwich University's Northfield, Vt., campus.

photo by Jennifer LangilleNoted management expert and author Tom Peters speaks at the School of Graduate and Continuing Studies' 2011 residency on Norwich University's campus.

As a world-famous author and business consultant, Tom Peters has visited 67 countries and traveled more miles than he can count to preach a simple message: Pursue excellence and strive to lead, and success will follow.

That elemental idea resonated throughout the speech Peters delivered during Norwich University’s School of Graduate and Continuing Studies’ June 2011 residency, a weeklong campus gathering of more than 700 students from the U.S. and abroad.

Peters, 68, wrote the seminal book In Search of Excellence more than 25 years ago. In a wide-ranging talk on June 15, 2011, he urged listeners to put their unwavering focus on excellence no matter the field of study—especially in today’s challenging climate.

When you get older,
you never regret your mistakes. You regret the things you didn’t try.

Tom Peters,
author,  In Search of Excellence

“The greatest danger is not that we aim too high and miss, but that we aim too low and reach it,” said Peters.

Backed by PowerPoint slides, his talk was a potent mix of real-life anecdotes and an impassioned entreaty for students to learn how to lead by learning how to listen, serve and take care of people who work for and under you. Drawing frequent laughter from students, professors and visitors, Peters offered a common-sense view on what constitutes leadership and how to seek it.

“Don’t suck up, suck down,” he said, lamenting the fact companies spend weeks vetting top execs, but minutes choosing employees who lead on the front lines.

The theme hit home for Linda Gaines of Richfield, Ohio, a graduate diplomacy student who turned to Norwich to start a second career after 30 years as an international flight attendant for Delta Airlines.

“He's an incredible speaker,” said Gaines, who found Peters’ talk rang especially true for her as a fellow traveler who has experienced many cultures. “Our stories really connected.”

Gaines, who hopes to work in an embassy or in diplomacy or public relations after finishing her “cutting edge” courses at Norwich, also enjoyed connecting with fellow students and other speakers in the “idyllic setting” of Norwich’s undergraduate campus, nestled in Vermont’s green hills.

“We had an incredible opportunity to hear lectures from fabulous experts in the field, and the career development component was great too,” she said.

Meeting fellow students face-to-face, Gaines discovered they included ministers, professionals with economic backgrounds, diplomats and people already working in embassies.

“It was a wonderful experience. I’m so glad [residency is] a requirement of the programs. It kind of seals the whole experience,” she said.

Residency Week brings together students from the nine master’s-degree programs—including business, nursing, civil engineering and information assurance—that compose much of SGCS’s academic offerings. They also meet face-to-face with professors like Tom Luckett, who teaches in the Master of Business Administration program from his home in Louisville, Ky.

Luckett said Peters was an especially good choice as speaker because his message emphasizes an overarching theme that Norwich, the nation’s oldest private military college, carries through all of its offerings. This includes graduate and undergraduate programs, and military and civilian lifestyles.

“He’s in the forefront of thought on leadership and management, and that’s where Norwich tries to keep itself. We’re constantly evaluating courses and the way we do things,” said Luckett.

“The idea is that leaders inspire people. They make people want to follow them,” he added. “Those are the kinds of things we try to teach.”

Luckett, who teaches organizational leadership courses, said his students range in age from their 30s to 50s. He greatly enjoys these motivated individuals, often “people who are upping their game” or taking a new direction with their careers.

Peters’ talk included personal reflections on his military experience as a Navy Seabee during the Vietnam War. He drew parallels between successful people in military and civilian leadership, whether they wore stars on their shoulders or were in baseball, business or ballet.

“When you get older, you never regret your mistakes. You regret the things you didn’t try,” he said. As a veteran, he added it was an honor to speak at Norwich—especially to adult distance learners.

“There wasn’t a room like this 20 years ago,” he said, praising students for continuing their education in a virtual classroom.

Professor James Schaap, a fellow Vietnam veteran from Reno, Nev., who teaches in the MBA program, said Peters was the perfect high-powered speaker to cap the residency, and his message was one to which all could relate.

“Even though he’s probably been telling the same story for a long time, the stuff is as applicable today as it was 30 years ago,” he said.