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What do Murals Teach Us About Leadership?

Posted on : 10-09-2009 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Business, Inspirational, Living in Philadelphia

Tags: , ,

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Photo of Jane Golden courtesy of Philadelphia Magazine

Photo of Jane Golden courtesy of Philadelphia Magazine

This is a follow up to my post titled “Part of Leadership is Giving Back.”  In that post I spoke of the importance for leaders to give back to the community, but I did not address what really makes a leader.  We call many people leaders as a sign of respect for a level they attained in life or business, but that is not leadership.  Leadership can take many forms and in many areas in life.  To me a leader is someone willing to take risks, and do something completely different.  Not because they are told to, or because others are having success doing it, but because they believe it is the right thing to do.  Leading the way has risks, and many failures, but that willingness to have the insight and accept the risks make the person a leader.

Holding Grandmothers Quilt, © 2004 City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program / Donald Gensler, 3912 and 3932 Aspen Street, Photo by Jack Ramsdale

Holding Grandmother's Quilt, © 2004 City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program / Donald Gensler, 3912 and 3932 Aspen Street, Photo by Jack Ramsdale

In business we see many following others.  One of the areas that I have seen a lot of following is with process improvement programs.  When Motorola had great success with Six Sigma, every company seemed to jump on the bandwagon in embracing the Six Sigma concept.  Black belts and green belts were everywhere.  I think it is a great program, in fact my wife was a green belt with GE and I was trained on the program at the Vanguard Group, but implementing this based on the success of others is not leadership.  It is simply following.  Risk in implementation was minimal based on the success already demonstrated by others.  I know many may say that even Motorola was following the lead based on work of many in Japan.  This is correct, but the tools and concepts developed by the Motorola team were innovative and took the concepts to another level leading to the popularity in American business.

So what does this all have to do with murals?  Well over the past 2 years I have worked at Comcast I have had an opportunity to be a part of incredible life experiences.  To me the greatest of these experiences was the opportunity to hear from Jane Golden about the creation of the Philadelphia Anti-Graffiti Network, which has evolved to the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program.  As part of the leadership program that I am luck to be a part of, Jane joined us to discuss the history of the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program.  Imagine the year 1984 in the streets of Philadelphia.   Graffiti was a major problem, just like most major cities in the US.  Jane Golden came in and took the unique approach of embracing those that were doing this graffiti and providing them a more structured outlet to release their artistic energy.  Many could not believe that someone would invite perceived criminals into her home.  She helped them harness this energy and release it into amazing works of art, like those on this page.

Bridging the Diaspora, © 2008 City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program / Willis Humphrey, 5741 Woodland Avenue, Sponsored by the City of Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health, Photo by Jack Ramsdale

Bridging the Diaspora, © 2008 City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program / Willis Humphrey, 5741 Woodland Avenue, Sponsored by the City of Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health, Photo by Jack Ramsdale

Today the Philadelphia Mural Arts Programs is considered to be one of the best in the world.  Others often attempt to imitate it.  People travel from all around the world to see the amazing show that is part of the landscape of Philadelphia.  All started through the vision of Jane Golden.  Many of the people that joined the program from the streets have gone on to college and paved their own path in the arts, business and many other fields.  I am sure they are now leaders on their own, thanks to the mentorship of a true leader in Jane.

The moral to the learning was part of leadership is going against the expectations of others and setting a path that moves your team, organization or simply yourself into a uncharted territory.  As we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the mural arts program, I would like to thank Jane for her leadership.  The work of the program is cherished by so many.

How do you lead each day?  Who are some of the unsung leaders that have made a difference in your life?

Visit http://www.muralarts.org/ to learn more.  If you are in Philadelphia, I highly recommend going on a tour!