Reflections on Life, Leadership, Mindfulness, Change, and other Important Stuff

Month: December, 2011

Reflections on Leadership: The George Bailey Effect

Every year during this season thousands, if not millions, make the Frank Capra film “It’s a  Wonderful Life” part of their Christmas tradition.  The film resonates so strongly with viewers no film maker has attempted to remake it since its debut in 1947.  It somehow seems to avoid the need to be “updated” or improved upon unlike so many other “classic” movies.  In his portrayal of George Bailey, Jimmy Stewart has somehow touched us in ways we cannot quite explain.  While some may identify with the idyllic community of Bedford Falls, others with the nostalgic Christmases of their childhood, the film also contains a great lesson in leadership, that, while seemingly apparent, warrants further consideration.

While we live in an age where competency and integrity seems to have been replaced by celebrity as a requisite for leadership, George Bailey stands in stark contrast.  A gifted and ambitious young man, he repeatedly sacrifices his own desires to serve his family and community.  He defers pursuit of  a college education to step in for his dead father as Executive Secretary for the Building & Loan.  Later, George remains in that role to allow his “second team All American” brother to pursue his own career opportunity rather than demanding the brother take over his “duty.”  Ultimately, George is willing to sacrifice himself (and go to prison) for the loss of $8,000, rather than let his absent minded Uncle Billy take the penalty for losing that sum.  While numerous other examples are present in the film, these will suffice to demonstrate the willing sacrifice of a man whose leadership changed a community.

Great films and literature, not necessarily the ones that make the most money, often find something noble in us to explore and celebrate.  The story of George Bailey’s unknowing impact on his family and community is, at its core, a parable of leadership.  In a time when leadership has often been seen as a path to privilege, wealth and entitlement, our world could use more George Bailey’s.  While achieving our own goals and desires should should not be deemed inherently wrong, our culture seems to overlook and under value the simple and routine acts of sacrifice that can profoundly impact our families and community.  George’s sacrifice produced a legacy of love, saved lives, restored reputations, built homes, and fostered self respect far beyond his realization.  In the end “the George Bailey Effect” was rewarded by not just by friends coming to his aid, but his own realization of the value of his “wonderful life.”

In the end, honesty, determination, courage, and especially, sacrifice, must be seen as their own reward, lest they become means to an end.   George Bailey’s sacrifice was never motivated by the desire to be recognized or rewarded. He made his decisions out of a much deeper well of conviction.  Those of us who would be “leaders” would do well to follow his example and celebrate those who do.

Keep the Faith!

Thriving on Change: Creating Change

It is difficult, in the limited scope of these pages,  to fully address all the tools needed to thrive on change.  The topic is too broad, applications to varied, and personal goals differ.  However, the mere discussion of these matters can help us see “through the looking glass” of change with greater competency and less anxiety.  Yet if we truly desire to thrive on change we must be bold enough to attempt one final strategy.  We must have the courage to create change.

While the venues may vary, creating change, be it in our personal lives, in our churches, our business, or community, begins with a sense of dissatisfaction, a belief that things are not as they should be.  It must be accompanied by a sense of conviction that allows us to acknowledge the brutal facts of a given situation.  We must face the the fact we are unhealthy, often times, because of our own choices.  We must acknowledge our business underperforms because we are not leading or managing well.  Sometimes we have to acknowledge we have set a course that leads down the wrong path. To create change is to begin with the end in mind.  It is to write our legacy, our epitaph, first, then begin the long walk in the new direction. We must become pioneers of our own futures.  (cue the dramatic bass drum roll!)

Creating change is the work of vision.  It is rarely dramatic.  It is often the result of a making a number of different decisions along the path of life.  It is getting out of be earlier to go to the office or the gym because you went to bed early the night before.  It is sleeping better because you reduced the amount of caffeine you drank the day before that enabled you to get out of bed.  Creating change is the relentless and constructive challenging of convention until everyone else “gets it.”  It is the inglorious part of building a better business model, healthier body, or relationship.

Several threats emerge when companies or individuals commit to creating change.  Often we are afraid to attempt to create the change for fear of failure.  We meet people who are threatened by our intentions, honorable as they may be.  They may actively or passively attempt to sabotage our efforts.  We can become isolated, even hopeless.  Especially if we have “failed” before.  What are we to do?

We must gird ourselves for the challenge before we begin.  We must recognize creating some change means incremental rather than sweeping success.  We must celebrate the small victories along the way.  We must be prepared to endure the questions about our judgement, our motives, and our loyalties when we challenge the status quo.  There are those small minded, fearful indiviudals in the world who would even hold us back from better lives and successes because they are afraid.  We must not let them.  To do so is find ourselves wrapped in the mediocrity and conventions of the status quo.

Keep the Faith.