Former trustees chairman, AT&T CEO discusses leadership

John Zeglis knows a thing or two about leadership. Along with five years as GW’s chairman of the Board of Trustees, the former Harvard Law Review senior editor was also President of AT&T and chairman and CEO of AT&T Wireless.

One Wednesday, Zeglis outlined 10 important lessons about being a leader in the School of Media and Public Affair’s Jack Morton Auditorium. Zeglis’s “Lessons in Leadership – From 30 Years in the Eye of the Telecom Hurricane” was presented to an audience of mostly students that included former Congressman Michael Oxley, an Ohio republican.

Zeglis, though modest of his achievements, spoke from personal experiences as a high-ranking official of AT&T before his retirement in November 2004 when Cingular bought the corporation.

The 10 lessons were broken down into two separate categories: group leadership and individual leadership. He declared to the crowd that when it comes to leadership, “nobody’s formula works for you” and an individual must “pick a little here and a little there.”

Within group leadership, Zeglis urged team unity with references to Vince Lombardi’s book “Run to Daylight.” He went on to use the title of the book as part of the heading of his number three lesson in group leadership, “Have a game plan, but run to daylight.” Zeglis stressed that sometimes one must forget the play, see the opportunity and run to it.

Zeglis said one of the worst things a leader can say to their group is to think outside of the box. His No. 1 lesson in group leadership was “Don’t just sell widgets,” meaning that good leaders establish the feeling that whatever it is you are doing is noble and important.

“Know the basics, be the best at a couple of subjects, learn new things, try different ways, be open-minded without being empty-headed,” he said. Zeglis argued that through this type of education, you are able to “Contribute Something,” his number one lesson in individual leadership. Zeglis also stated that leaders must “Learn to Fail.”

Again making a reference to sports, Zeglis referenced former Chicago Bulls basketball player Michel Jordan who throughout his career made 27 game winning shots and missed 28 – a less than 50-percent record – and yet is regarded as one of the best players of the game.

Oxley called Zeglis’s presentation “excellent” and said he knew Zeglis from his days as a congressman. Oxley said Zeglis was “always the best witness” when called before a Congressional committee and was a very “thoughtful” man.

Junior Jennifer Engelo remarked that she enjoyed Zeglis’s “anecdotal way of saying things,” adding that he had a “different way of saying things we’ve all heard before.”

Zeglis, a Harvard University magna cum laude 1972 graduate, concluded his presentation by talking about “having fun” in life, “kind of the biggest game out there.”

Before being hired in 1984 to work on AT&T’s legal staff, Zeglis was hired as an associate at the Chicago law firm Sidley and Austin in 1973 and by 1978 was made partner. In 1984 he jointed AT&T on the legal staff and rose to the ranks of president in 1997. He also told the audience that the three most important undergraduate courses he took were Microeconomics, Accounting and Financing.

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