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Leadership Lessons from Buddy the Elf

December 23, 2019

Earlier this week we posted a twitter poll, asking our followers to let us know which iconic character from some of the most popular Christmas movies would make the most effective HR Director.  The results were…

It’s no surprise that the Grinch had the fewest votes (although he's not entirely unpopular, it seems!). Our winner was Buddy the Elf – Will Ferrell’s joyful character from the 2003 Christmas Classic, ‘Elf’.

 

But what makes him such a popular choice? Here are 5 leadership lessons we can learn from our favourite Christmas elf.

 

1. A passion for his cause

 

Buddy’s passion for Christmas is undeniable.  Everywhere he goes, he tries his hardest to spread Christmas cheer and encourage others to share his love of the festive season, even working through the night to transform the department store into an impressive Winter Wonderland that Santa himself would be proud of.

 

Sometimes his passion isn’t always welcomed; especially at first by his new family, but his relentless attempts to ignite Christmas spirit in those around him demonstrates a passion that is catching.

 

Great leaders create a compelling vision and a culture that others want to contribute and belong to.

 

2. Not afraid to challenge

 

Despite generally being full of positivity and admiration for others, Buddy isn’t afraid to challenge those that don’t display the values that are so important to him.  He looks for the best in people, but knows when something isn’t right, and tackles performance issues head on.

 

“You smell like beef and cheese.  You don’t smell like Santa!”

 

It goes without saying that our beloved Buddy could probably benefit from a bit of coaching to help him deliver developmental feedback in a more positive and effective way, but his courage to confront an issue of transparency and integrity that others so readily ignore is admirable.

 

3. Helps others recognise their strengths

 

Buddy helps his friend Jovie to see that she’s a talented singer, and gives positive, authentic feedback.

 

"I think you have the most beautiful singing voice in the whole wide world."

 

Buddy encourages her to think of singing as “just like talking, except longer and louder, and you move your voice up and down", and shows her that singing in front of others is just as easy as singing alone, in the best way he knows how – by singing loud for all to hear.  Thanks to Buddy’s encouragement and mentoring, Jovie has the courage at the end of the film to sing in front of the whole town to start her own movement, and save Santa’s sleigh.

 

A leader needs the guts to stand alone and be vulnerable, in order for others to feel like they can follow.

 

4. He’s kind

 

It’s easy to see that Buddy has a heart of gold and spreads positivity wherever he goes. One of my favourite parts of ‘Elf’ has to be the ‘World’s Best Coffee’ scene, when Buddy excitedly rushes in to a Cafe after seeing a sign for 'World's Best Coffee' to congratulate the team on their prestigious award.

 

And imagine how amazing his father’s secretary felt when Buddy took the time out to compliment her.

 

 “Deb, you have such a pretty face you should be on a Christmas card”.

 

Harvard Business School’s Amy Cuddy demonstrated that leaders who project warmth and kindness are more effective than people who lead with toughness, and that kindness and warmth leads to trust. Furthermore, researchers at Oxford University uncovered 21 studies that proved being kind to others makes us happier and even more productive at work.

 

5. He knows how to have fun

 

Buddy has a child-like approach to life which means he finds fun and joy in the things most of us so often take for granted. Never wavering from his goal of spreading Christmas cheer, he still finds the time to spin around in revolving doors, dance on tables in the mail room and decorate his father’s apartment.

 

“I thought maybe we could make ginger bread houses, and eat cookie dough, and go ice skating, and maybe even hold hands.”

 

Great leaders understand that hard work can be fun - and is a key part of an organisation’s culture.  Those that can make being part of their culture fun have happier, more engaged employees.

 

Of course, Buddy doesn’t always get it right.  He’s often over the top and a little misguided at times, but there’s a reason he’d make a better leader than the Grinch.  In fact, the chances that a manager who is strongly disliked will be considered a good leader are only about one in 2,000. We can learn from Buddy that the ability to harness fun, kindness and positivity to create a culture that everyone wants to be part of is key to being a great leader, and of course, spreading Christmas cheer.

 

Merry Christmas!

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