Leadership Lessons from It’s a Wonderful Life

Yes, I’ll admit it – It’s a Wonderful Life is my favorite movie.  Not just my favorite holiday movie – my all-time favorite movie.  As I watched it again this weekend (an annual treat), I saw a number of timeless lessons it offers us as leaders.  So in the spirit of the season, and with apologies to those of you who find it sappy and hokey, here are my top 10 leadership lessons from It’s a Wonderful Life:

10. Organization skills – young George Bailey quickly organizes a chain gang to save his brother Harry when he falls through the ice in the opening scene.  In an emergency, get organized!

9. Sound decision-making – George gathers enough data (the telegram and Mr. Gower’s state of mind) to determine that something doesn’t seem right about the prescription delivery, and as a result, saves Mr. Gower from poisoning a customer.  Don’t just blindly follow instructions – make up your own mind when making decisions.

8. Courage – George repeatedly stands up to Mr. Potter, refusing to buckle to the pressure to sell the Building & Loan or accept a job from the town bully.  Stand up for what you know is right.  

7. Purpose – George’s Dad explains to George why he started the Building & Loan – to give people a chance to own a home and have a decent life.  Make your life’s work something meaningful.

6. Generosity  George sacrifices his own hopes and dreams throughout the movie, sending his brother to college, accepting the rap for Uncle Billy, giving money to Violet Bick, etc.  It’s not about you, it’s about others.

5. Staying calm under pressure – during the bank run, George keeps his cool, calming his customers and restoring order in a panic situation.  Keep your head when others about you are losing theirs.

4. Execution is critical – this one is cheating a bit – but George, my man, you gotta come up with a better process than sending batty old Uncle Billy to the bank with the deposits!  Of course, without the lost money, there’s no movie, but still… execute the important things well.

3. Greed is not rewarded – that damn Mr. Potter keeps the money – even though he knows Billy mistakenly put it in his newspaper.  Boo!  As a banker, we’re trusting you, dude – oh wait, that kind of thing is still going on, isn’t it?   Do the right thing – always.

2. Reflection – the whole second half of the movie is one giant reflection period; that Clarence is quite an executive coach!  George gets a chance to see what the world would have been like without him.  Take stock of your life, and count your blessings.

1. Relationships are everything – the big a-ha of the movie.  George gives and gives his whole life, and it all comes back to him in the final scene when the entire town comes to his rescue.  Be kind andserve others, and they’ll be there for you in your hour of need.  Remember, no man is a failure who has friends.

Enjoy the holidays, everyone!