A Leadership Lesson From the Next Generation

A Good Citizen -- and His Mom -- Put Things in Perspective

By Published on .

"I get up at 5 a.m. every day to walk my mom to the bus, because it's kind of dangerous where we live and I want to make sure she's OK."

Out of the mouths of babes.

In this case, it was out of the mouth of Anthony, a big, bright, and perpetually-smiling young man who was one of more than 250 17-year-olds receiving a Good Citizenship Award from the Union League of Philadelphia. Each had been nominated by different organizations around the region, and each kid exemplary in his or her own way.

Amazing how when we agency owners plow through our own problems -- or what we think are big issues like operations, payroll, creative capacity -- on a daily basis, but a little phrases such as the above can stop you in your tracks.

Out of all of these kids I could have sat with, and have the honor of putting a Good Citizenship medal on, I was seated at a table with a young man who is an artist. He came to this honor by way of the incredible Mural Arts Program of Philadelphia. As Jane Golden, the wonder woman who started Mural Arts in 1984 says, "Art saves lives."

In the case of Anthony, I'd have to agree, and also add that art isn't just saving him -- it's setting a foundation for a thriving young man. Meeting his very proud mom, her commitment to his development was evident. "I don't miss a single event of his -- I just take a vacation day from my job," she said. Those words should burn in the brain of any agency owner, whether or not Little League or musical recitals have started up. Here's another one: "I go up to Anthony's room and even when it's late, he's sketching away and I have to tell him, 'It's late, go to bed!'"

Still feel like complaining about long hours, Mr. or Ms. Agency Leader ?

Leadership. Don't we hear that often in agency life? Leadership was just one of several themes making up the foundation to this Good Citizenship Award, but certainly one that we as agency owners should always re-investigate. Surrounded by a couple hundred future leaders the night of this awards presentation, I could feel the weight of this word completely and, like any other adult in the room, admonished myself for ever taking it for granted.

My refined interpretation of leadership in the agency world after one extraordinary night with a special young guy and his mom, his rock, is the following: Smile more, be open about your feelings, laugh about hard days, be wildly passionate about what you do no matter how late you're up doing it, and ask as many questions as possible.

Sounds about right.

Peter Madden is founder-president of AgileCat, Philadelphia
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