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Why I Lead

August 10, 2015


I grew up in the New Jersey suburbs with typical boyish aspirations of being a football player, astronaut, fireman or Olympian. I didn’t consider growing up to be a leader. But it happened somehow. Although, I watched my dad carefully, I guess it was because I never really sensed I had someone before me to follow. Today I lead my company as President of Unique Photo, NJ’s Camera Superstore and its 75+ employees. I lead my non-profit as a board member at The Josephine Herrick Project.

So here’s why I lead:

I lead because I have grown to learn the hard and valuable way that no vision will ever be accomplished in my business on my own. You can’t do it all by yourself. There is power in numbers and collective intelligence so success is measured in how well you make that work.

I lead because I get the privilege of living another day to practice listening to my intuition. And it tells me that if I surround myself with smart, hardworking and imaginative people, great things will happen for me, my company and everyone in it.

I have come to believe that there is more potential in people than is on the surface – even when my head is screaming dig deeper and there is still nothing there.

Some prime examples from my Unique Photo staff:

  • The young man I hired to work our packing line that I saw a spark in – now manages the entire 50,000+ sq. ft. warehouse and staff.
  • The 23 year old who started as a graphic designer – now runs our whole marketing department, photography education program and store.
  • The legally blind man, without a college degree, who I hired as an accounting clerk – now, through very hard work and dedication, is our finance manager.

That’s potential which others doubted would work, but lead to greatness. The payoff for me is the vicarious feeling of success I get through watching these deserving folks succeed – and of course the productivity and value they add to the company.

It doesn’t mean I go seeking out the least likely to succeed or that it always works. Sometimes bad qualities can be turned around (sometimes not) and channeled into positive traits. Like the young man who came out of photography school. He had a bad temper. He even yelled at me in front of the staff. I should have fired him, but something stopped me. I saw in him a passion that was mixed with immaturity. I advised, handheld, held my temper a few more times, stuck it out and now he is our chief technical advisor and assistant store manager. And he relates to co-workers with respect and maturity.

But my best leadership story by far relates to my own son Zak. After his mom left he was severely traumatized and stopped talking for years. His behavior was at times wild and almost uncontrollable. Many thought he had ADHD. I got advice from all over the place what to do from getting him drugs to boarding school. The solution that came to me was putting him in traveling, competitive soccer when he was eight years old. He acquired discipline by having to run and train hard several hours a day. He learned to relate to his teammates and coach and gain the experience of competition and what was required to win. Today he manages one of the largest and most successful camera stores in the USA. Mine.

When it’s your own child you can’t toss them back. When it’s your business to decide what to do with an employee – look at them like it’s your son or daughter before tossing.

Why do you lead?

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn & Matt Sweetwood’s blog

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