President Bruce Benson's newsletter

November 2014

Dear Alumni and Friends,

Leadership matters. I have had that bedrock truth reinforced countless times in the course of my activities in business, education, politics and community work. When I speak to graduates at CU commencement ceremonies each semester, I share with them lessons I have learned about leadership in the past six decades.

First, and perhaps most important, I urge our newly minted alumni to be leaders. Leadership is one of those intangible qualities that is essential to organizations, communities and our country. And while we have selected courses and programs across our campuses that focus exclusively on leadership, and it is woven across the curriculum in other ways, it is not something that can be taught the way we teach history or physics.

The leadership lessons we impart to students are valuable, yet my view is that the best learning about leadership comes from a combination of experience and observation.

I have been fortunate in my life to be in a position to observe and work with some of the foremost leaders of our community, state and nation, from school superintendents to presidents of the United States. I have also worked with leaders in business and industry.

I tell our graduates I have learned that leaders are open and inclusive. They know what they don't know and they surround themselves with smart people who do know. Teamwork is essential to the success of any organization, and great leaders foster high-performing teams.

It's important for leaders to be thoughtful and not act rashly, but they also need to take calculated risks. While these approaches may seem at opposite ends of a spectrum, they actually work in concert. Conditions will not always be optimal, but when opportunities arise, leaders have to recognize them and seize them.

Failure is part of leadership. Some of the most valuable lessons I have learned were born of failure. It hurts and it can lead to setbacks, but it is rarely fatal and usually a good teacher. Former President George H.W. Bush once told me he learned more from one election loss than from all his victories. More often, thoughtfully considered risks lead to great rewards.

Perhaps the most important lesson for leaders is one that most of us learned from our parents and from kindergarten teachers: treat everyone with respect. I have watched presidents of the United States who treat the White House service staff with the same respect they show senators and prime ministers. People want to work for those types of leaders; they want to be part of that team.

When leaders treat people with respect, they command respect themselves. I have watched some leaders who demand respect because they hold a title or position. That never works. You cannot force respect. It is earned over time by how leaders carry themselves and how they work with people. You have to lead by example.

Universities such as ours do a wonderful job producing leaders. The lessons learned in our classrooms and on campuses not only serve our graduates well, they provide substantial value to organizations, communities, our state and nation. You don't have to look far to find CU alumni in leadership positions. Our university is well positioned to continue to produce the kinds of leaders our country needs. And that is precisely what we are doing.

For feedback, contact


Bruce Benson


  • November, Leadership lessons
  • October, Learning how to learn
  • September, CU's largest real estate gift
  • August, What for, not how much
  • July, The bogeyman in the basement
  • May, Private gain or public good?
  • April, Funding outlook: sunny today, stormy tomorrow
  • March, Expertise and passion
  • February, Soaring in southern Colorado
  • January, It all starts with reputation



  • December, The threat from legal pot
  • November, Good news comes in threes
  • October, CU labs: a magnificent microcosm
  • September, Is college worth it?
  • August, A lasting legacy and a record set
  • July, Getting there from here
  • June, Serving those who served
  • May, Indelible impact
  • April, Bruce on Bruce
  • March, Perception and reality
  • February,Leading leaders


  • December, We're most proud of this CU uniform
  • November, From python hearts to Tebow's cleats
  • October, We want you
  • September, How to succeed at college and save $20,000
  • August, Reputation drives results
  • July, Teaching an old president new tricks
  • June, A message from the president
  • April, CU announces $1.5 billion Creating Futures campaign
  • February