top of page

How a Disruptive Teenager Taught Me Leadership

Updated: Jan 17, 2019

I was on the train home from University one evening when a young teenage boy was agitating and disturbing the other passengers on the train. I could see by the look on the other passenger’s faces that they were disgusted at the profane language that this young teenager was using. He even had the nerve to harass and ridicule two other passengers about their religion and the colour of their skin. It was seriously getting out of control and I was quickly losing my patience. As I was about to stand up with the temptation to spew unkind words, I instantly reshaped the way I was thinking by remembering the voice of my dear Mother who said “love your neighbor and always be kind, no matter what people do, just love them.”

I stood up without hesitation and marched towards the teenager, all while the eyes of the other passengers followed me like a shadow thinking I was going to shut him up with a cool wrestling move, but instead I made him talk even more and eventually sing too. I sat down next to this teenager and started talking to him as if he were already a good friend of mine, a colleague and a brother. I saw the potential in him, growing up and becoming a great leader. I also realized that he was carrying a sky blue ukulele with him. So can you guess what happened next? He was kind enough to teach me how to play the ukulele and then we started to sing songs that were familiar to not only the both of us but most passengers on the train. As we sang to the ukulele, quickly other passengers joined us in singing too. Some of them even made the effort to make friends with the young teenager.

Not realizing it at first, but the young man’s talent was bringing everyone together. The teenager was actually converting his enemies into friends. I’ve never seen anything like this happen before. It was a miracle. I learned a very good lesson that evening. I realized how blind I was because I only focused on how the young man was bringing out the worse in everyone else but failed to see how we (all of us) can help bring out the best in him. It is times like this that we tend to forget how to be kind, generous and loving. How many of us have had employees or people in our team that we didn’t like because they just rubbed people up the wrong way, were not performing to our expectations or we just believed that they were bad luck to our organization? It may even be someone you know outside of work. However, I encourage you to reshape the way you think and see that person. Always remember that people can change. How many of us come together as a team and discuss about how we can help that person who is struggling to reach their full potential?

During the 1940s and 1950s, there was an American prison warden by the name of Clinton Duffy who was well known for his efforts to rehabilitate the men in his prison. One critic challenged Clinton Duffy and said, “You should know that leopards don’t change their spots!”

Warden Duffy replied, “You should know I don’t work with leopards. I work with men, and men change every day.”1

Like Clinton Duffy, we too can seek to see the potential in others but also to help bring it out of them. When we see people as who they can positively become and not just for who they are, we naturally care and support them. Remember that people can change. Yes, be honest if they are not performing, but be constructive and loving when you talk about it. Always remember too that both women and men need to be genuinely told that they are doing a great job, that they are valued, and that they are capable.

Yes , the ukulele played a big role in converting the situation into something more collaborative and positive but the real deal, was actually changing the way I saw and thought about the person. When we apply the same method of thinking, that is when the miracles and friendships actually begin.



bottom of page