From Bedford Falls to Philly, leadership matters

    Gotten your Bedford Falls fix yet this holiday season?

    Bedford Falls is the town where George Bailey, the Jimmy Stewart character in the Christmas classic, It’s a Wonderful Life, lives. George is on the brink of suicide until a bumbling angel shows him what a difference his life has made in the lives of others in his hometown of Bedford Falls.

    Have you ever asked yourself the George Bailey question: How would your town be different if you’d never lived there?

    What would be different about your city if youweren’t there? Tell us in the comments below.

    Last week, I got the chance to listen in as more than 100 of Philadelphia’s most trusted leaders gave their answers.

    The occasion, sponsored by Leadership Philadelphia and the Knight Foundation, was a gathering of three groups of what Leadership’s gentle honcho, Liz Dow, calls Connectors.

    The term “connector,” borrowed from Malcolm Gladwell’s book, The Tipping Point, refers to people who have an overpowering enthusiasm for making things happen, without caring that much who gets the credit.

    Since 2006, Dow and Leadership have done three rounds of identifying such leaders in this region. The most recent round this, done with WHYY and our Web site, identified Connectors in the region’s thriving creative sector.

    You can find profiles of those 76 Creative Connectors on

    Since Connectors thrive on, well, connection, Dow thought it would be a good idea to bring the three classes together and brainstorm ideas to increase civic involvement in the region.

    The table at which I sat had a lively exchange. The answers people there gave to the George Bailey question were impressive. Without my tablemates, there might not have been a thriving charter school in West Philly, a Please Touch Museum in its new home in Fairmount Park, new spaces for any number of nonprofits, or a Real World series based in Philly.

    Looking elsewhere around the room, I saw people who’ve made gardens and small parks pop up all over the city, who’ve kept City Hall from lurching over the financial brink, who’ve lit the fire of poetry in dozens of young students.

    Yet I saw plenty of realists, people who never fool themselves about the steepness of the climb, but few whiners, few cynics.

    What I saw was clear evidence that, while working for change may be hard, it’s a lot more fun than sitting around carping and making excuses.

    So, let me suggest this as part of your end of year meditations. Ask yourself the George Bailey question. If you like your answer, great. If not, it is never too late to do something about it.

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