Leadership Lessons from your Favorite Holiday Movies


Miracle on 34th Street High standards in talent selection mixed with belief in selected talent can achieve unprecedented impact and change. 

Christmas Carol – Targeted Coaching — coaching for urgent and ongoing behavioral change —  can turn the worst leader into the best if they commit to change.

It’s A Wonderful Life – The leader that pours into others, advocates for others, and provides the resources needed by others to achieve goals will always be “the richest man in town!”

White Christmas Influence used for the right purpose and loyalty (even if it is misinterpreted or comes with a cost) brings huge value.  Leaders can benefit others and benefit from others during tough times.

Holiday Affair – Yes, it failed at the box office in 1949 but was a favorite of Ted Turner, who broadcast it incessantly on TCM until it made Good Housekeeping’s list of best holiday movies. Lesson: get a passionate following willing to do whatever it takes to influence others, even if it takes over 60 years to achieve!


Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer – Forcing individuals to conform, cover up their unique attributes, harassing them (name-calling), and excluding them from critical opportunities to perform (reindeer games) is indeed the definition of a toxic or hostile work environment.  Will a leader stand by and let it happen, ultimately causing a failure to deliver on a commitment?

Or will the leader realize the opportunity, embrace differences, take urgent action to demonstrate the change, and keep commitments not considered possible through previous approaches?

Charlie Brown Christmas – Leaders will get down on themselves, their situation, and even their team.  They will be mocked and undermined and even shown up by other achievers. They can get frustrated.  However, good leaders that are willing to double down, take a risk, and refocus their teams on their primary purpose will achieve their goals in the end.

Frosty the Snowman – People can become jealous of the success of others or desire to take back what they had discarded as useless before someone was able to display its full magic.  This jealousy can become very destructive unless a leader intervenes, applies effective discipline, sets clear expectations, and follows up with commitments to all involved.

How The Grinch Stole Christmas – It may not seem obvious, but any leader who undervalues what his or her team offers or holds them back unnecessarily is The Grinch That Stole Their Opportunity. Every time we fail to appreciate others and truly understand what they value, we are The Grinch.  It’s not just about the presents (compensation or awards). 

Polar Express – Helping others to step out of their comfort zone, even when they are reluctant, can help them to believe in themselves more, embark on a journey of growth and development and be open to new learnings and opportunities.

Tokyo Godfathers – Japanese animated version of the Nativity story describing a disparate group of homeless people who discover an abandoned baby on Christmas Eve and create a sense of belonging in their group and provide themselves purpose in the process.  Leaders who can establish purpose can bring together the resources needed to accomplish anything.

An American Tail – An excellent leadership example of honoring one’s past while continuing to keep it relevant in a new environment.  Leaders don’t just change for change’s sake. They adapt their experiences to fit a new reality without losing the essence of what made those experiences unique and special, to begin with.


Die Hard – Even though you can buy t-shirts saying “I Survived The Nakatomi Plaza Office Party – 1998,” sometimes having a “Yippee-Kai-Yay” approach to leadership can overcome the odds and win the day.  Don’t forget the importance of listening, two-way communication among colleagues, and showing support when things are going wrong (John McClane, Sgt. Al Powell, Holly, Limo Driver).  Those that listen to this movie thrive and survive. Those that don’t (Gruber, Johnson, the other Johnson, Richard Thornberg, et al) each have their moment, and then it’s over. Leaders are not about their moment as much as about others. 

ELF – Even the “odd one out” can contribute to the ultimate success of an enterprise and all others involved.  Leaders don’t marginalize those with different perspectives, they learn to embrace those perspectives and incorporate them into their decision-making.

Full Court Miracle – Based upon a true-life story, how does a discarded leader rally a team lacking in talent to achieve results that no one ever thought possible?

The Black Candle – By establishing and demonstrating group values and purpose (unity, self-determination, collective work, responsibility, cooperation, purpose, and faith), a people’s struggle becomes a celebration for a global movement.

A Christmas Story – This holiday classic challenged the traditionally portrayed family/holiday dynamic and was a total box office failure.  The back story was that a number of studio executives did not support the making of this film. They hated the idea. They were wrong. Many good ideas never make it to The Big Screen or are undercut by those who should be offering support.  Good leaders move forward and find a way for a good idea to become a great reality. Oh yeah, the movie content has about 100 leadership lessons, including “getting what you want may actually put your eye out!” Heed good advice. Keep an eye out for blind spots in our behavior.

Christmas Vacation – Step back, take a deep breath, look at the big picture, and put things in perspective.  Stuff happens. We can’t always control it. Heed advice from others, but recognize things will go wrong.  How you respond will define you as a leader.

The Santa Clause – Whatever success you may be experiencing now may pale in comparison to what you could be doing, and it could be coming to you at too heavy a price.  Don’t assume what you are doing now is what you are destined to be doing. 

Home Alone – Ingenuity and growth will help overcome any challenge.  If we stay stuck in our ways, fail to develop, and stay lazily dependent upon others, we will not be able to address the inevitable challenge that will come our way.  Leaders don’t arrive. They grow and develop.

Jingle All the Way – Trust is a critical two-way street for leadership.  Leaders must trust those they lead. Those that are led must trust their leader. Numerous examples of how a lack of trust by either the leader or those being led results in unnecessary drama.  Be truthful and upfront with those you lead and trust they can respond well. All lies and misrepresentations will eventually be discovered.

Planes, Trains, Automobiles – Two pretty basic leadership lessons: don’t forget those that joined you along the journey and do whatever it takes to achieve a worthwhile goal.  Also, don’t assume everything will go as planned, and never assume pillows!

All Hallmark Movies – Find a process that works, repeat, improve, mix in a balance of experienced and new talent and have folks overcome some challenges to achieve their happy ending.  We strongly recommend the Hallmark “kiss” be a symbolic representation of everything coming together!

So we hope you get to spend time with family or friends and enjoy some wonderful Holiday movies with “Reel Messages,” and we hope you see them through a new lens. Happy holidays!

Leadership Lessons from your Favorite Holiday Movies
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