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Indiana University

US Secretary advises ‘hunger for responsibility’

November 4, 2010
Bloomington, Indiana -- From IDS report | IDS
POSTED AT 12:04 AM ON Nov. 4, 2010

In a lecture room of the School of Public and Environmental Affairs, former U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill spoke about leadership to students, faculty and Bloomington residents.

On Wednesday, O’Neill discussed his ideas about what it means to be a true leader and engaged in a question-and-answer session with the audience.

The former U.S. Treasury Secretary graduated from IU with a master’s degree in public affairs.

He worked as a computer systems analyst and became the chairman and CEO of Alcoa, an aluminum company, before being appointed to the role as U.S. Treasury Secretary under president George W. Bush’s administration.

O’Neill focused his speech on the qualities of a true leader and what is needed for an ideal workplace in America.

O’Neill said a great organization can’t exist without a leader who aspires to create the ideal working conditions.

He said a real leader will start with a hunger for responsibility rather than a greed for money and recognition.

In addition, the employees in the organization must be able to answer yes to three questions.

Am I treated with dignity and respect by everyone despite position?

Am I given things I need so that I can make a contribution to the organization that gives meaning to my life?

Am I recognized for what I do?

O’Neill then went on to advise students present to become knowledgeable in any subject a leader might encounter.

“For those in training to be leadership material, learn enough about a subject so you don’t have to rely on experts’ opinions,” he said.

“Think about things, so when you are making these important decisions, it won’t be the first time you thought about it.”

Graduate student Ginger Simpson said O’Neill’s phrase about leadership being a responsibility to serving the people stuck out to her because it made her feel better about the idea of a leader being a servant rather than greedy.

“Paul O’Neill is a figure I’ve been interested in for a while. He tends to speak his mind and to speak of values, which when you’re working in quantitative work it tends to get overlooked,” she said.

One example O’Neill explained thoroughly was injury in the workplace.

He said when companies make a goal and require everyone to abide by it, there must be no exceptions, otherwise the goal will be voided.

He said to the audience that the injury rate for companies where employees work in manufacturing plants is 30 times lower than the injury rates in jobs in the medical field.

If people are hurt at work, they are not the most important resource,” he said.

O’Neill left his audience with a final message: “If you don’t get meaning in your life, you have a limited life. Every day ought to be about finding meaning in your life in what you do.”

— Jillian Miers