Gabby Giffords' Words Win Over Blanchard Leadership Forum Audience

"Better, stronger, tougher."

Those were the words former U.S. congresswoman Gabrielle "Gabby" Giffords used to describe her future self, three years after she was gravely wounded in a mass shooting that claimed six lives outside a Tucson, Ariz., supermarket

Giffords, who still struggles with everyday life as a result of her gunshot wounds, got a standing ovation Aug. 26 from the 1,000 attendees of the Jim Blanchard Leadership Forum, where her astronaut husband, Mark Kelly, helped her get her message across. But she hardly missed a word while leading the audience in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance before the event organized by CSU's Leadership Institute.

Kelly, who was leading the final Endeavour shuttle mission while his wife was undergoing her final surgery, praised Giffords for her strength and challenged others to learn from her experiences.

John Stankey, group president and chief strategy officer at AT&T, was one of the highly anticipated forum speakers at the Columbus Convention and Trade Center. He closed his address on "Real Time
Analytics: Team, Engagement, Generations" with a quote from comedian Steven Wright: "Experience is something you don't get until just after you need it."

That quote, Stankey said, summed up one of his previous points that successful business leaders must be brave in making decisions without perfect information.

"At the rate of change and the pace today, we can't always promise that we're going to have the experience or the reference point to be confident," Stankey said. "We've got to accept that change is just a part of where we are, and we have to be brave in meeting that change and adjusting to it. That's the reality of the world we're in, and that's what the leader of today needs to do to be normal."

"Leadership in the New Normal" was the theme of the 2013 Blanchard forum.

"The Jim Blanchard Leadership Forum was out of this world in so many ways," said Ricky Steele, an Atlanta executive who attended. "It would be easy to say that Seth Godin (online marketing expert) rocked my world, but that would only limit the tremendous wisdom and insight I received from each and every speaker."

Other speakers included forum namesake Jim Blanchard, retired Synovus CEO; Tom Mullins, founding pastor of Christ Fellowship, a Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., non-denominational megachurch; Alan Mulally, president and chief executive officer of Ford Motor Co.; David Novak, chairman and CEO of YUM! Brands, Inc.; and Major Gen. H.R. McMaster, commanding general of the U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning.

Among those scheduled to speak at Jim Blanchard Leadership Forum 2014 on Aug. 25-26 are Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer for Facebook; Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, business magnate, investor and philanthropist; Scott Harrison, founder-CEO of charity: water, a nonprofit organization bringing clean, safe drinking water to people in developing nations; retired U.S. Navy Vice Admiral John R. Ryan, president and CEO of the Center for Creative Leadership, a nonprofit organization focusing on leadership education and research; author Marcus Buckingham, a leading expert on employee productivity; and Ronald A. Heifetz, senior lecturer and co-founder of the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government.

For more details and to register for the 2014 forum, visit

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