A deliberate choice to lead.
But then, being a leader isn’t about choosing our circumstances, it’s about helping to navigate uncertainty, about viewing opportunities and options through a certain kind of lens, and about choosing our response to those circumstances. And that’s precisely what Leo did.
I first met Leo on a rainy day in late April, when I came to Vandalia to make his portrait. To that point, I knew nothing about him. But in the five or six minutes that followed, he made no fewer than four choices that quickly shaped my perception of him. First, he was on time. Second, he offered a firm handshake and an eye-lock that demanded I notice him. Third, he offered to help bring the equipment in from my car. And, fourth, he made light, funny conversation en route to and from said car. In short, he made an impact. At 18, he’s got an uncanny grip on how to make a great first impression. But more importantly, he took it upon himself to make several deliberate choices, a key dimension of leadership.
A few weeks later, I had the opportunity to interview Leo for this issue, and I found him to be in possession of a rare blend of intelligence, emotional awareness, and whimsey. His official accolades and achievements are impressive, to be sure. His service resume ranges from National Honor Society and Student Council to Code Red and Scholar Bowl, and, as a sophomore, he was one of the youngest members to be appointed to the Illinois State Board of Education Student Advisory Council during the 2018-19 school year. But what fascinated me the most about Leo was his fertile imagination and innovative spirit. He tells me a story of how, as a much younger Leo, he used a bonus room in his parents’ home to experiment with various business concepts— a theater, an arcade, a retail store— and how, for him, business has always been about solving a real problem or fulfilling a genuine need for his customer. Sure, he learned how to measure the revenue early on, but the true measure of success, for him, has always been the positive customer feedback.
As a successful young entrepreneur and member of CEO, he launched a specialty snack company called Mezcla Mix, which craftily folds the dimension of our metabolic cycles into the unique selling proposition. So successful, in fact, was his integrated marketing approach, that he won second place in the National Pitch Competition put on by CEO last spring.
Fact is, Leo is much more than the sum of his parts, and through his certain kind of lens, he saw the adversity of our lingering Covid Season as an opportunity to become better organized, better prepared, and more open to alternative approaches in a world that doesn’t always cooperate with our expectations. None of us wanted the impact of Covid, and we certainly didn’t want the disruptions visited upon our kids, but Leo managed to apply a layer of introspective intelligence and a touch of his trademarked whimsey to come away, I think, somehow even more qualified to bravely and confidently face an uncertain future.
One of Leo’s favorite ideas is that of the butterfly effect, a scientific principle that suggests how a small, localized change in a complex system can have large effects elsewhere, like a butterfly flapping its wings in the Amazonian forest creating a weather altering chain reaction or a stone tossed into a calm pond, sending ripples to the shore. As he heads off to Bloomington-Normal this fall to attend ISU, I suspect it will be just the beginning of his butterfly effect upon the world.
I, for one, cannot wait to see what kind of ripples Leo sends out to land upon our shore.
Leo managed to apply a layer of introspective intelligence and a touch of his trademarked whimsey to come away, I think, somehow even more qualified to bravely and confidently face an uncertain future.
No sane person would say the past few years have gone according to plan. Certainly not Leo Krueger (VCHS ’22) who, among other leadership roles, served as president of his Senior Class during the closing stanza of the Covid crisis.