As a recovering corporate executive, keynote speaker, and head of the Courageous Leadership Institute, I didn’t expect to get anything more out of Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie” movie than giggles and some good old-fashioned female bonding.
So it’s sort of an understatement to say that, as I watched Barbie’s adventure unfold on screen, I was astonished by the profound insights on courageous leadership that popped up in nearly every scene.
The best part of the Barbie movie, for me, was America Ferrera’s monologue, which breaks down all the ways, as Barbie puts it, “it’s literally impossible to be a woman.” The parallels to leadership here are uncanny.
Switch a few words around and you’ve got some really relatable insights.
Leaders have to always be extraordinary, which makes us always worried that we’re doing it wrong.
We have to be in control, but not too controlling. And we can never say we want to be in control. We have to say we want to collaborate, but also we have to be in control.
We have to be the boss, but we can’t be perceived as too direct. We’re supposed to climb the career ladder, but also always be reaching down to help others climb it as well.
We have to answer for other leaders’ bad behavior, which is insane but, if we point that out, we’re accused of complaining.
We’re supposed to be superstars, but not so much so that we threaten our peers, because we’re supposed to be team players. But always stand out and always be grateful.
And yet somehow, amidst all of these impossible to untangle contradictions, we, the Courageous Leaders of the world, figure out how to make it all work. Here are my four key leadership takeaways from Greta Gerwig’s Barbie movie.
4 Things I Learned About Leadership From Barbie
Embrace Humor to Connect and Inspire
Humor is often overlooked or even viewed as risky in the corporate world. Yet it holds the power to create genuine human connections and boost productivity within our teams. In the Barbie movie, Greta Gerwig’s screenwriting team did a spectacular job of using humor to address a number of sticky issues.
Through laughter, they addressed feeling “not seen” or undervalued. All of the issues and facets of self esteem. And being defined by your appearance, rather than who you really are.
As Courageous Leaders, we’re in a unique position to do the same thing. We can handle all of our inevitable workplace issues in a way that relieves tension and helps people see the bigger picture.
At the Courageous Leadership Institute, we teach techniques for establishing a culture of courage that embraces open communication, gratitude for our coworkers even in the face of difficulties, and the essential soft skill of not taking ourselves too seriously.
Whether it’s the result of massive exaggeration, a hilarious incongruity, or a simple expression of irony, laughter can help us defuse stressful situations, put everyone at ease, while building strong bonds with our teams.
A team that laughs together succeeds, not in spite of, but because of the challenges they face together.
Stay True to Your Values Amidst the Temptations of Power
In the world of corporate leadership, power can be a double-edged sword. Barbie’s journey teaches us that staying true to our core values keeps power from corrupting us. Barbie’s unwavering authenticity is a reminder that, as leaders, we must never lose sight of our core principles.
When faced with challenging decisions, we need to trust in our values to guide us on the right path. Or, as Barbie puts it, “Why change the world when you can just be yourself?” When we are consistent in our actions, we lead with integrity, and our values serve as the compass that steers our leadership journey.
Collaboration Catalyzes Real Change
As Courageous Leaders, we know that our success hinges on effective collaboration and teamwork. Perhaps one of the strongest messages of leadership that comes from the Barbie movie is the transformative power of working together. In the words of Barbie, “The more friends you have, the bigger the world gets.”
When we encourage a culture of collaboration, our organizations benefit in a multitude of ways. Individual team members feel included and valued for their particular strengths. Someone who has great ideas, but a tendency to be shy, can blossom in an environment where ideas are openly shared. When our teams unite with a common purpose, remarkable achievements become possible, propelling us all toward meaningful progress.
The Liberating Power of Forgiveness
Forgiveness is a leadership tool that can free us from the burden of past mistakes and failures. Barbie’s emphasis on learning from setbacks is a valuable reminder that we can all do the same. She opens herself up to new possibilities when she says things like, “I thought I knew what I wanted, but now I see, I had no idea.”
As Courageous Leaders, we know very well that navigating the complexities of business includes the inevitable frustrations and missteps. When we embrace forgiveness, both for ourselves and our team members, we enable people to take risks and learn from their experiences and create a culture of innovation and resilience.
Have fun, stay true, work together, and free yourself and your team with forgiveness. Who knew a pink-infused movie could do so much.
Here’s to Director Greta Gerwig, one very Courageous Leader who did leaders everywhere a huge favor when she made the Barbie movie. Today, her courage is paying off big time. As of this writing, the bubblegum pink feature has grossed more than $626 million domestically and $1.4 billion worldwide, making it the highest grossing film directed by a woman, ever. Ever!
Not bad for a doll who began life without a single career prospect. Go team.
WHAT’S NEXT? Right now, at Cindy Solomon & Associates, we are having a blast equipping Courageous Leaders with the skills they need to lead even the most raucous Fauxjo Mojo Mink-wearing teams to success. If you’re an executive or leader who is ready to give the gift of Courageous Leadership to your leaders, go to www.courageousleadershipinstitute.com to grab a webinar, workshop, or keynote customized to your organization’s specific needs.
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At the Courageous Leadership Institute, we leverage our work with over 300,000 leaders and employees from 400+ companies to offer leadership programs that impact results with customers and employees immediately.
Cindy Solomon is CEO of the Courageous Leadership Institute, a thriving global leadership training and research organization with access to up-to-the-minute insights on how today’s most innovative corporations are defining the future of business. She is also the author of two books, The Rules of Woo and The Courage Challenge Workbook.