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“Eat Your Veggies”: A Lifetime Lesson on Leadership

Good Thinking | February 5, 2019 | 4 min read

When I was a kid, I had daily chores. My bed was made before school. Molly, the dog, was fed twice a day. My brother and I traded between washing or wiping dishes nightly. Homework had to be finished before watching TV. Sometimes, it was a chore to finish dinner before you could leave the table—especially the nights that broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, or stewed tomatoes were served.

And, quitting was not an option. If I started something, my parents saw that I finished it. Like music lessons. Mowing the yard. Did I mention music lessons? And especially team sports. If I signed up to be on a team, I stayed on that team until the season ended. It didn’t matter if we were winless or undefeated. Or if the coach was mean. I learned that you must play your part and that we win and lose together as a team.

As I finish my near 36-year run at Preston Kelly, I got to thinking about why I’ve been so fortunate to work at one agency for this long. Somehow I connected those childhood experiences to my tenure here. Through those simple daily chores, my parents taught me lessons that would serve me well both personally and professionally. I learned the importance of delivering on what people expect of you each and every day. It made no difference if I was an account executive or CEO.

To have the discipline to tackle the hard tasks before the easy ones, or to get work done before having fun, resulted from what my parents expected of me every day growing up. This is also how I learned that quitting won’t solve a client’s problem. And on those days when my professional attitude veered childlike, I would remember back to how good things will turn out if you stick with it and find the answer.

What I’ve also come to learn is what you expect of yourself, is what you also look for in your business associates. The agency, and more importantly our clients, benefit when we’re all motivated by the same basic values—to give our best, try our absolute hardest, and are not too quick to decide “that won’t work”.  It’s difficult to train a person to have a positive outlook on life; I’m convinced it has to be genuinely how you’re raised, and who you are.

And that’s why I’ve been so fortunate.

For nearly 20 years, Chris Preston and I have been business partners. We haven’t always thought alike (thankfully), but we have done whatever we could to find the best solutions together. From childhood stories we have shared with one another, I know that Chris had an upbringing similar to mine—do your job and don’t quit until it’s finished. As a result, we have had a long-term, trusting business relationship and a friendship to boot.

Jennifer Spire, our president, joined us two years ago. She has proved from day one that she will work hard to make the agency better and smarter. There are times when Jennifer’s workday begins before 7 a.m. and continues past dinner. She expects more of herself than anyone else expects of her. It isn’t a stretch of the imagination to discover that Jennifer learned the importance of being her best and being there for others at a young age.

Chris has long labeled Preston Kelly a “sum of the parts” organization because we have depended on one another daily. There’s been no super star with all of the answers. Preston Kelly is an organization of people who share the same strong desire to finish what was started and to always be there for one another. When we have created something great, we have created it together.

As I leave my full-time position and serve as a consultant for the agency, I have an even deeper appreciation of the lessons my parents taught me. I’m convinced that my longevity at the agency wouldn’t have been possible without those childhood experiences and without sharing my career with those with similar beliefs. It’s the secret to our agency being in business for more than 68 years. And I’m confident the agency I’m leaving will go right on respecting one another and giving it their all.

Now I’m off to new adventures. New commitments. I get to hit the re-boot button and see where it takes me. Here’s what I do know about the days ahead: Our bed will be made first thing in the morning. The cat (no longer a dog) will get fed twice a day. The dishes will be dutifully put into the dishwasher. And I will try to finish my work before I play. However, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, and stewed tomatoes will not be invited to dinner.