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‘Live your dash’: Lessons in life and leadership from Bob Kraus

Aerospace dean gives history and philosophy lesson in his 18:83 Speaker Series talk

Bob Kraus
Robert Kraus, dean of the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences, gives his 18:83 speech on Jan. 24. Photo by Adam Kurtz/UND Today.

Editor’s note: A video of Dean Kraus’ talk is available at the bottom of this story.


Listening to Robert Kraus talk about leadership is like traveling through time. You’ll find yourself in ancient Greece before jumping to the 1980s to talk about a sci-fi movie, then skipping ahead again to think about mortality and what it means to “Live your dash” (more on that below).

Kraus, dean of the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences at UND, was the latest person to take the stage in UND’s ongoing 18:83 Speaker Series. The series invites campus and community leaders to give insights into how they view leadership.

Kraus spoke on Jan. 24, and he jumped right into a combination history-and-philosophy lesson. The lesson was derived from Stephen Covey’s book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” and televised interviews of Adm. James Stockdale, the Vietnam War hero who was Ross Perot’s running mate on the presidential campaign trail in 1992.

“One of the things in the book that Covey talks about are circles,” Kraus said. “There are circles of control, circles of influence and circles of concern. There are things that happen to people in their lives that they have no control over.

“The one thing that we do have control over is how we react to those things.”

Jumping back to ancient Greece, the book references Stoicism, a philosophy created by Zeno of Citium after his ship sank and he was left stranded in Athens with nothing. The philosophy expanded from Zeno to Marcus Aurelius, who wrote a treatise on Stoicism called “Meditations.”

“Meditations” outlines an ethical path through life that emphasizes traits such as rationality and clear mindedness, all in pursuit of self-improvement. Stockdale, who was taken prisoner during the Vietnam War and was subjected to torture, was an adherent of the stoic mindset, which helped him survive the ordeal.

Returning to “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” which could be called a modern continuation of “Meditations,” Kraus said he interpreted the first precept of the book, “Be Proactive,” to mean, “Just show up.”

A retired Air Force colonel, Kraus said that early in his service career, he volunteered for missions and assignments beyond his regular duties. Doing so helped get him noticed, to the point that when a desirable posting became available, his commander “volunteered” him for the role.

“I came back from a trip, and I went in and the secretary says, ‘Oh by the way, you volunteered for an assignment while you were gone, and you’re going to go live in Southern California in the desert,’” he said. “Well, it turns out that was a great thing.”

Kraus mentioned other ideas that have informed his leadership style, such as “do it now,” from the book “Getting Things Done,” by David Allen. Don’t let those emails pile up, Kraus said. Just get them done, by taking care of what can be handled immediately and then moving on to what takes more thought. And don’t forget about them!

And then, from the book “Extreme Ownership,” by Navy SEAL Jocko Willink, there’s the idea of not sitting on the sidelines when something goes wrong:

“If you see a problem, fix it!” Kraus said.

Memento Mori
A Memento Mori calendar, used to count down the days in one’s life. Photo by Adam Kurtz/UND Today.

And those are good ideas, not just for those in leadership roles, but for an outlook on life in general. But in order to think about life, it’s necessary to think about death, because (and to laughter), Kraus said:

“Remember, you are all going to die.”

That sentence comes almost directly from the Latin phrase, “Memento Mori.” And, it turns out, Memento Mori life calendars are available for purchase. Page after page of empty boxes can be checked off, day after day for 80 years, roughly the lifespan of the average American.

But why would a person want to do that?

“Because we’re not going to be here forever,” Kraus said. In other words, it’s important for a person to live their life, not watch it pass by.

This is a concept that Kraus calls “living your dash.” On a headstone, the dash can be seen between a person’s date of birth and date of death. To Kraus, it represents what one did during one’s life.

It’s this philosophy that has taken Kraus from riding camels near the Egyptian pyramids to flying a new aircraft through the middle of a hurricane to becoming dean of the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences, plus making some wonderful friends along the way.

“The main point of this entire presentation, if there is one thing you should take away, is this: Live your dash,” he said.

Up next in the 18:83 Speaker Series is Jeremy Holloway, assistant professor & director of Geriatrics Education. He is set to speak on the Memorial Union’s Social Stair on Wednesday, Feb. 7, at 2:30 p.m.