28 November

Lessons of Leadership from Buddy the Elf

Few things can get us in the Christmas spirit like a good film. But for many of us, we’re still working hard, with little time to really indulge in the festivities. Therefore, we thought we’d bring the Christmas spirit to you, with lessons of leadership from one of our favourite Christmas film, Elf.

In 2003, Jon Favreau directed one of those instant classics that was immediately embraced as a yearly Christmas must-see, with the release of Elf. The story of a human (Buddy), who was raised by elves in the North Pole who travelled to New York in search for his real father.

And for all its laughs and humour, Elf also has a few leadership lessons we can all learn from.

"Why don’t you just say it, I am the worst toy maker in the world. Seems like everyone has the same talents, except for me." ‐ Buddy the Elf

Like Buddy, sometimes we feel like the odd person out on our teams or in our organisations. Leaders must be able to not only notice but strategically put people’s strengths to work. To find ways for each person in the organisation to contribute positively to their team, as individuals. When we do this, we allow the strengths, talents and diversity of our people and teams to be utilised to their highest advantage. For this to happen, it requires that a leader not only notice but differentiate and intentionally engage the variety of strengths and talents around them.

"Buddy the elf, what’s your favourite colour?" ‐ Buddy the Elf

Great leaders don’t spend their time giving people answers, they focus on asking the best questions. Questions that drive learning and build capacity across the organisation. So, like Buddy the Elf, if leaders want to build and accelerate learning on their teams and within their organisation, they need to be able to ask really good questions.

"Sounds like somebody needs to sing a Christmas Carol." ‐ Buddy the Elf

Today’s leaders must be equipped with high levels of awareness, at the organisational, team and individual level. They need to continually keep their finger on the pulse on how well things are going at each of these three levels. Which requires a strong level of emotional intelligence. Leaders not only have a strong understanding of how to lead initiatives, drive results and create momentum towards change, they need to equip themselves with empathy, compassion, and understanding. To have a strong sense of when to push, when to back off, when to slow down, and when people just need a pat on the back and a bit of encouragement.

"I thought maybe we could make gingerbread houses, and eat cookie dough, and go ice skating, and maybe even hold hands." ‐ Buddy the Elf

Leaders don’t just know how to work hard, they know how to make work fun. They find ways to infuse joy into what the organisation is doing. It’s important to understand that hard work, doing something that is worth investing themselves in, something bigger than themselves can also be incredibly fun and joyous at the same time. Businesses often forget about the culture, and ultimately, they suffer for it because you can’t deliver good service from unhappy employees.

"You sit on a throne of lies! You stink. You smell like beef and cheese. You don’t smell like Santa!" ‐ Buddy the Elf

And even though Buddy was happy go lucky and always tried to find the silver lining in all that he was doing, he did not hesitate to call out a wrong if it existed. He did not just go with the flow. As leaders, we too must look for the best in those we lead, but we can’t choose to look the other way when there is a wrong or problems exist on an organisational, team or individual level. Being a leader means to not look the other way, to face the issues, which left unattended, will slowly decay and erode the culture of the organisation.

These are just a small selection of leadership lessons to think about this Christmas period!

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