Sarah Thompson (global and New York chief executive of Droga5) in “The Corner Office”

Adam Bryant conducts interviews of senior-level executives that appear in his “Corner Office” column each week in the SundayBusiness section of The New York Times. Here are a few insights provided during an interview of Sarah Thompson, global and New York chief executive of Droga5, an advertising firm. To read the complete interview, check out other articles, and obtain subscription information, please click here.

Photo credit: Earl Wilson/The New York Times

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What were your early years like?

I grew up in western Maine, in a town of about 800 people. It was a mill town back in the day, so I grew up in a place with very little material wealth. There was never a sense that you should achieve this or make this much money or go to this type of school.

My parents instilled in me a deep sense of the importance of hard work and accountability, simply because it’s what you do. I have wondered if that is partly because so much of what people did there was about getting ready for the winter. It’s cold there, and my father still sends pictures of all the cords of wood that he has ready in the fall.

There was a lot of difficult work, from a very young age. If you wanted to have horses, you’re going to get up at 5 a.m. to take care of them. Those were the rules. I think it manifests itself in mental stamina later in life.

The way they viewed the world was quite selfless, and my perspective is that leadership has to be quite selfless. I see lots of leaders who are the best at what they do — they’re the smartest people in the room — but it’s hard for them to move to that next level.

I tell people that there’s less glory the more senior you get. You have to constantly be thinking about how you’re going to make the whole team better. To do that, you have to be kind of selfless. It’s not about winning the meeting or feeling that people would be lost without you.

When you went to college, did you have a clear idea of what you wanted to do?

I wanted to be a journalist at first, but by the time I graduated, I really wanted a job in advertising. I couldn’t get a job in advertising when I first graduated, though, so I worked for a beeper company as a sales assistant.

My mom is a kindergarten teacher. My father worked for one of the manufacturing companies in management. They were ex-hippies. They had lived out in San Francisco, and we ended up in Maine because they wanted to be closer to the land. The way they viewed the world was quite selfless, and my perspective is that leadership has to be quite selfless. I see lots of leaders who are the best at what they do — they’re the smartest people in the room — but it’s hard for them to move to that next level.

I tell people that there’s less glory the more senior you get. You have to constantly be thinking about how you’re going to make the whole team better. To do that, you have to be kind of selfless. It’s not about winning the meeting or feeling that people would be lost without you.When you went to college, did you have a clear idea of what you wanted to do?I wanted to be a journalist at first, but by the time I graduated, I really wanted a job in advertising. I couldn’t get a job in advertising when I first graduated, though, so I worked for a beeper company as a sales assistant.I took that little job so seriously.

Then I got a job at a recruitment ad agency, and that was one step closer to being in advertising. It was a hard road, but with all those jobs I did at a young age, I just wanted to do a fantastic job, because I had a keen awareness that they were going to help me with a reference or a connection somewhere else.I wasn’t going to do them forever, but if you have a choice to do an average job or a great job, why not do the great job?

I wasn’t going to do them forever, but if you have a choice to do an average job or a great job, why not do the great job?

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Adam Bryant, deputy national editor of The New York Times, oversees coverage of education issues, military affairs, law, and works with reporters in many of the Times’ domestic bureaus. He also conducts interviews with CEOs and other leaders for Corner Office, a weekly feature in the SundayBusiness section and on nytimes.com that he started in March 2009. In his book, The Corner Office: Indispensable and Unexpected Lessons from CEOs on How to Lead and Succeed, (Times Books), he analyzes the broader lessons that emerge from his interviews of hundreds of business leaders. To read an excerpt, please click here. To contact him, please click here.

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