Talking GOOD with John Leonard

John Leonard

Last week, I sat down for coffee and conversation with John Leonard. Do you know John? I didn't know him prior to December 15, when he introduced himself to me at a business event. But he made a hell of an impression, which is why he's the focus of this post. I'll make a long story short. John was the Director of Marketing and Communications with the nationally recognized, DC-based nonprofit, NeighborWorks America. Last June, NeighborWorks downsized due to budget concerns and just like that, this 30-year veteran of the nonprofit sector – with three children, one in college and one in middle school – was facing the daunting prospect of starting his career anew.

Some people would have looked at this as real bad luck. But John viewed his situation for the opportunity that it was, and immediately began investing his time and energy in volunteerism, networking, and personal development. While many 50-something professionals are content to ride the wave of their past accomplishments, John knew there was much more to learn – particularly in this ever-evolving world of media and communications.

When we met, he brought me up to speed on his situation. Rather than focusing on his many prior experiences, he spoke about that which he still wants to accomplish. He approached his situation not as a victim, but as a crusader, ready for his next great adventure. When he was finished giving me his spiel, he paused, and then asked with great humility: "So what do you think? What can I be doing better?"

I am well aware that this economy stinks, but after meeting with John, I was struck by the fact that there are some really accomplished, intelligent, motivated, and passionate individuals out there whose skills are not being harnessed. John left me with a copy of his résumé, but I didn’t think the words on the page did him justice. So I decided to ask John ten mock interview questions myself, and post his responses right here on Communicate Good. So without further ado, meet John …

1.  FULL NAME:  John Edward Leonard

2.  IN JUST ONE SENTENCE, WHAT IS YOUR PURPOSE IN LIFE: To create the maximum positive impact while wreaking the least possible damage.

3.  WHAT IS SOMETHING YOU WANT TO ACCOMPLISH BEFORE YOU “EXPIRE?” My first aspiration was to become a news photographer, an extremely strenuous but powerful vocation. Had a talent gap not presented itself, that’s what I would be doing now. I haven’t given up on the essence of that dream and have recommitted to creating at least one significant image every week as a way to eventually call myself a real photographer. (see a few of those images here and here and here).

4.  IF YOU COULD MEET WITH ANYONE ALIVE, WHO WOULD IT BE AND WHAT WOULD YOU ASK THEM? Bill Clinton. I would ask him, “When you left the White House, you were still a young man with a ton of once-in-a-century experiences. How did you figure out what to do next with your life?”

5.  WHAT WOULD THE TITLE OF YOUR BOOK BE? Persistence

6.  WHO WOULD PLAY YOU, IN A MOVIE ABOUT YOUR LIFE? With a strong dose of theatrical license, Denzel Washington is the first name that comes to mind. He would definitely be playing well below his bracket if he tried to play me (not to mention the difference in race). He’s an incredible talent – embraceable when he’s in a lovable role and eerily fearsome when he’s not.  He has also done great things for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

7.  WHAT IS A BELIEF THAT IS CORE TO YOUR BEING? Collaboration trumps conflict and mindless competition. But if you do have to pick sides, pick the one with the greatest number of underdogs. That decision doesn’t make life any easier but it’s the right call to make.

8.  WHO ARE YOUR HEROES? In terms of marquee heroes, MLK Jr. and just about any of the civil rights workers from David Halberstam’s The Children. I also am in awe of the thousands of citizen leaders of community-based, nonprofit organizations. They put their reputations and often their physical and economic safety on the line – all for not much more than the chance to serve their neighbors and make a difference.

9.  TELL US SOMETHING SURPRISING ABOUT YOURSELF. Today, I am a patient, thoughtful, caring guy who follows the “think, speak, act” routine in the proper order. But early in my professional life I wrestled with some temper problems; in fact, they almost buried me. I decided to learn about the nature of anger, not inflict it on other people, and reprogram it toward more positive results.

10.  WHAT QUESTION DO YOU WISH I HAD ASKED? How do you decide what is the appropriate balance between work life and family life?