What can a Christmas Movie about an Elf Teach us about Leadership?

Full confession. I once dressed up as Buddy the Elf and delivered candy canes to all my employees. That’s how much I love the movie Elf. I actually have a Buddy the Elf coffee mug that I use at work every year from Thanksgiving to Christmas.

I’m not the only one who loves this movie either. In the 14 years since its release, Elf has become a classic “must watch” holiday movie. Most people can quote at least one line from this hilarious Christmas comedy.

As I watched Elf again this year, I realize there were many powerful leadership messages in the story. Here’s some that I noticed:

Sometimes people just don’t fit in. Buddy the Elf was a human raised by elves. As such, he didn’t really fit into either world. As a leader, there are times when we have great employees who just don’t fit into an assignment or a department. We need to identify these people and put them in roles where they are a better fit.

Employees need to discover things on their own. Buddy the Elf learned his birth father, who he had never met, was on the “naughty list.” He went on a quest to find him to learn more about himself. Often times, employees need to do the same thing. They need to try new activities and be given stretch assignments to learn what they love. As leaders, we need to give people the freedom to discover what their true passions are.

“Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.” George S. Patton

People will always amaze you. When Buddy the Elf decides to decorate the toy department at Gimbels for Santa’s visit, everyone is shocked at his abilities. People will amaze you as well. Give them the chance to show you what they can do. As George Patton said, let them surprise you with their results.

“I just like to smile; smiling’s my favorite.” Buddy the Elf

Just smile. An employee once told me, I was her favorite boss. When I asked why, she explained that I always said, “thank you” and I smiled a lot. As a leader, we set the tone. If we’re upbeat and happy, our employees will sense that. Even when you’re having a rough day, remember to smile.

Don’t pick a snowball fight with someone from the North Pole. Buddy the Elf befriends his half-brother when he shows off his unusual talents in a snowball fight. As a business leader, we need to recognize when to fight and when to back down. Not every fight needs to be won. Pick your battles, whether it’s with employees, co-workers, or even customers. Always remember that discretion is often the better part of valor.

“I’m sorry I ruined your lives and crammed 11 cookies into the VCR.” Buddy the Elf

Sometimes we need to apologize.  When things didn’t initially work out with Buddy’s new-found family, he leaves an apology letter. Apologizing is often the hardest but most important thing we do as leaders. If we make a mistake, admit it and apologize. People know it’s hard to admit when you are wrong or hurt someone which makes a sincere apology even more powerful.

“You stink. You smell like beef and cheese! You don’t smell like Santa.” Buddy the Elf

Employees can spot a fake. Buddy the Elf quickly spotted the fake Santa and our employees will spot fakes as well. If you are not being genuine, authentic, and truthful, your employees will know. They can tell when you are not being real with them. Don’t think you can fake it around your team.

You need people to believe in your vision to bring it to life. Buddy the Elf knew people had to believe in Santa to make the reindeer fly. It’s the same thing with our visions. To bring our plans to life, we need people to understand and believe in them. Do your employees understand your vision? Do they believe in it? If not, it’s never going to get off the ground.

Christmas season is a great time to gather and watch our favorite holiday movies. As you sit through Elf this year, think about the leadership messages. Look for those employees who are not fitting in, find ways to let employees discover things on their own, give your people room to amaze you, find time to smile, choose your battles carefully, apologize, be authentic, and give your people something to believe in. If we do these things, we will be more successful as leaders and, maybe, be as happy as Buddy the Elf himself.

Looking to Get Out of Your Comfort Zone? Hire a Navy Seal

“Don’t get too comfortable. Ever.” Navy Seal

Life begins at the end of your comfort zone. We’ve all probably read this quote or seen something like it on Instagram. Deep down, we know personal growth comes when we depart our comfort zone. Many of us are willing to step outside our comfort zone for short periods of time for incremental improvements, but we quickly move back to where we are content.

It makes you wonder, what would happen if we left our comfort zone for an extended period? What if we went even further? What if we hired one of the toughest men on the planet to live with us and train us like a Navy Seal for a month?

“I don’t stop when I’m tired. I stop when I’m done.” Navy Seal

Luckily for us, we don’t have to wonder because someone has done it. And the story is both inspiring and hilarious.

Living with a SEAL: 31 Days Training with the Toughest Man on the Planet is that story. It follows the author, Jesse Itzler, a successful entrepreneur, as he leaves his comfort zone in an extreme way. In a desire to raise the bar on his fitness, Itzler hires a decorated Navy Seal to live with him and train him.

A clash of cultures. From the first day the Seal moves into Itzler’s high-end apartment in New York City, there is a clash of cultures and mindsets. Itzler is a wealthy businessman with a young family living a comfortable life with three homes, private jets, cocktail parties, and all the trappings that comes with success. The Navy Seal (who’s name we never learn) has nothing except a backpack and an attitude.

“Even the way he spit was scary. If he hit you with it, it likely would leave a scar. He was intimidating. Physically, the man looked like someone sprayed muscle paint all over his body. Ripped. Flawless.”  Jesse Itzler

To get the most out of this book, it should be listened to on Audible because it is read by the author and you get Itzler’s true reaction to all the crazy things the Seal wants him to do. Where Itzler seeks comfort, the Navy Seal chooses to be uncomfortable. When it snows, the Seal wants to go running. When he’s exhausted, the Seal wants to do more pull-ups. When the lake is frozen over, the Seal wants to cut a hole and jump in. Itzler’s reactions to the Seal’s unconventional training methods are priceless. For 31 days, Itzler trains like a Seal, completely outside his comfort zone.

“Whatever you got going on, someone else has more pain. You gotta learn how to fight through it. No matter what it is.” Navy Seal

The transformation. What makes this book special is Itzler’s transformation. He starts out questioning and pushing back on the methods of the Seal. He also doesn’t understand why the Seal lives a simple life, doesn’t have a lot of baggage, and is always pushing himself to extremes. As Itzler begins to transform, he learns he can do so much more than he ever thought. He realizes that all his limits are in his head. He starts the training by not being able to do 20 pushups but ends up doing more than 250 a day. He begins to enjoying running in the snow and looks forward to jumping in the frozen lake. He learns to enjoy being uncomfortable and discovers that, by challenging himself, he can do more than he ever dreamed was possible. He also learns the importance of living a simple life.

“Most of my successes in life have come from learning how to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.”  Jesse Itzler

While most of us can’t afford to hire a Navy Seal, we can learn a lot from Itzler’s experience. Each of us have mental barriers that stop us from achieving our goals. We think we can’t lose weight, start a business, get in shape, stop smoking, go back to college, or write a book. We’re afraid to start because we’re worried we’ll fail. But, as Itzler learned, we are more capable than we realize. It takes getting out of our comfort zone and becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable to reach our potential. As the Navy Seal reminded Itzler, “Every day do something that makes you uncomfortable.”

Getting Comfortable with Making Mistakes

Many people put off the dream of starting their own business because they are afraid to fail. The truth is, about half of all new businesses will fail in the first five years. But that also means that half will succeed. If you’re thinking about becoming an entrepreneur, consider the six points that I wrote about in an article called, Don’t Ever Start a Band: Six Things to Consider Before Becoming an Entrepreneur.

  1. Check your motivation
  2. Understand your skills and experience
  3. Have a solid plan
  4. Hire the right team
  5. Build a support network
  6. Prepare to strap in

Starting a business is difficult but not impossible and a fear of failure shouldn’t stop you from pursuing your dreams. You’re going to struggle and make mistakes but you’re going to learn what you’re capable of as well.

Founding a company has been one of the hardest but most rewarding experiences of my business career. Like many, I ignored the warnings, the statistics and the naysayers and dove head first into the start-up life and I love it.

Being an entrepreneur means getting comfortable with making mistakes but, as Theodore Roosevelt said in his famous Man in the Arena speech, it’s better than becoming one of those “cold and timid souls who neither knows victory nor defeat.”

What do you think? Have you put off pursuing a dream because of a fear of failure? What can you do to overcome that fear? Do we unnecessarily limit our potential by not being comfortable with making mistakes? How do we change that and prevent becoming “cold and timid souls?” Let me know in the comment section below.