Earlier today I had the absolute honor and pleasure of speaking at the 2015 National Honors Society (NHS) induction at Willoughby South High School.

The four pillars of NHS are leadership, scholarship, service and character. All of these scholars embodied all four areas. However, I wanted to dig into what I believed they could focus on to make all the difference in their lives. I relied on my own experiences to hopefully point them in the right direction.

Here is how it went…

My fellow leaders,

It is my honor to share such a special moment with you tonight. Congratulations to the scholars, parents and guardians. Please take a moment to pat yourselves on the back. Job well done! Special thanks to Dr. Ward and his fantastic team here at Willoughby South. I have been very impressed with their focus on making Willoughby a better place.

Tonight we will discuss two concepts.

  1. Community and serving others.
  2. Social Capital and working with others.

My goal tonight is for you to learn at least one thing. We may discuss things tonight that don’t speak to you. However, what does speak to you focus on it and implement it immediately. Ideas without action are worthless.

Of the four pillars of NHS I believe “service” is the most important. True leaders serve. True success is serving more today than you did yesterday. When I speak to business people I tell them about “Schleicher’s 3 Key C’s to Success.” Of those three the most powerful is “Community.” No business success will ever compare to the feeling you get by giving back.

A few years ago my life was forever changed when I became a Board member for the Lake Humane Society. It was the first time I was able to combine my specialized skills in business and my passion for the community. The magical part of helping your community is that other organizations will take notice and ask you to join their cause as well. From there I was humbled to be asked to join other leadership groups such as the United Way,  the Andy Nowacki Scholarship Foundation, and other fantastic community missions. I was even able to fulfill my lifelong dream of coaching track this spring at South. The service I have been able to provide to my community motivates me to continue to work harder every day. It makes me feel like my existence actually matters.

When it comes to your community it is all about your attitude and action towards it. My wife shared a poem with me recently by R.W. Glover. The line that spoke to me and I want to share with you is, “…your town will be what you want to see. It isn’t your town, it’s you.”  Your vision of the world around you will in fact become the reality. As leaders of your school you have an obligation to accept the challenges ahead of you. Goals achieved become responsibilities. Now that your goal of becoming a leader has been realized. It’s time to act like it, forever. Leadership and success are lifetime commitments.


My venture into the “real world” began in January of 2008. I had $18 dollars to my name, I was living in my grandma’s basement, had a bunch of student loans and NO CLUE what I wanted to do with my life (Hint hint, scholarships! Scholarships! Scholarships!) I was scared to death of how I was going to succeed. At work my nickname was “The Rookie” because I knew nothing about the real world. It was the most intimidating time of my life. I was literally starting over. However, I had a secret weapon, social capital.

I was home schooled until 7th grade when I attended Willoughby Middle School. It was then and there that the secret to my success in business and in my community occurred. I knew almost no one. I made friends with people regardless of what “group” they were a part of. It didn’t matter to me. I loved people and I was excited to be making new friends.

My challenge to you today is this, look around the room right now. Who in this room have you never met? And ask yourself, “Why?” Then think of a way to change that.

Let’s play a game. Please take a quick moment to meet someone you do not know right now…

…thank you for playing!

To take this idea further, when meeting new people, focus on finding those who are strong in the skills and knowledge where you are weak. Don’t miss this perfect opportunity to join forces with someone. Use your strengths to compliment their areas of weakness and you’ll both be a lifetime ahead of others.

The point my fellow leaders is to show you we all need others to be successful. We’re only as good as the people around us. Early in my career I was fortunate enough to have dinner with the CEO of the Cleveland Convention Center and Medical Mart. We were discussing that there are two types of “capital.” The first is financial. The second is social. He helped me realize that my key to success was to leverage my social capital to grow my business the right way. I was far from having financial wealth; however, my social wealth made me one of the luckiest and richest men alive. Over time your “net-worth” will always be directly proportionate to your “network.”

In closing, I am living proof that your success will always be contingent upon how you treat people. Lasting success has no short cuts and you cannot change your community alone. Find others with similar passions and different skills than you. Work together to combine your specialties and you will become an unstoppable force of positive change.

Ralph Waldo Emerson’s poem, “Success,” contains a quote that I’ve used as my compass throughout my personal journey.  It was hanging in my grandfather’s office and ever since he died it’s been hanging in mine. The closing lines summarize my one goal in life and how I now view true success.

To know even one life has breathed
easier because you have lived;
This is to have succeeded.

My fellow leaders, go and make someone’s life easier because you lived.

Hopefully you’ve taken at least one thing from our conversation today that will empower you along the rest of your journey.

Thank you for being an inspiration to your school, your families and your community.

Go Rebs!

— James Schleicher