Interesting New York Times interview with Clarence Otis ’77.

07corner-190Q. Anything in your background that, looking back, prepared you for the art of building a team?

A. The thing that prepared me the most — where the team was front and center — was theater, which I did a lot of growing up, in high school, during college, law school and even for a couple of years after law school. I would say that probably is the starkest lesson in how reliant you are on others, because you’re there in front of an audience. It’s all live, and everybody’s got to know their lines and know their cues and know their movement, and so you’re totally dependent on people doing that.

You could have your piece down, but if one person on the team doesn’t, you’re in trouble, and it’s embarrassing because people aren’t used to seeing errors in theater. Theater is seamless every night.

Q. Do you find, looking back over the course of your career, there was a certain insight you had that put you on a different trajectory?

A. I went to Williams College. I went to Stanford Law School. And I loved them both. I was a strong student at Williams, which I needed to be to get into a school like Stanford. I got to Stanford, and it was clear that the level of brain power among my student peers had just stepped up several levels. It was clear to me pretty quickly that no matter how hard I worked, I was not going to do better than a lot of my peers, because things came quicker to them than they did to me. Even though that was not true at Williams, it was true at Stanford. But that was fine, and I was comfortable with that.

What I discovered when I started practicing law was that, even though others had more intellectual horsepower, people still listened to me. They cared about what I thought — my peers, and the people I worked for. And so, that was probably the insight that told me at some point I could have a leadership position, because people really seemed to care what I thought, and they listened to me.

Q. What’s your version of a two-minute commencement speech?

A. I would tell them that they’re privileged, given the status that they have, the fact that they’ve been able to get a higher education. And with privilege comes obligations. I think one of the most important obligations is for them to provide leadership in whatever area they choose to dedicate their life to.

Provide leadership — that’s the price of the privilege they’ve been granted. So it’s about more than them. Certainly, there are things they want to accomplish, but they’ve got to make sure that those things have some payoff for others.

Read the whole thing. Is that what Otis said at his Commencement address at Williams?

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