Leadership Articles: TALKING LEADERSHIP


A Feature Article from Gaynor Consulting Inc.
December 2013   |   By Dan Gaynor

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The Great Exchange

Each December I like to draw on one of my favourite Christmas movies to offer readers something seasonal. For this year, I'm reworking an article I first wrote in December of '09 as we look at leadership through the classic, It's A Wonderful Life.

The film tells the story of George Bailey, a small town man with big dreams to attend university, break free of his little town and see the world. When George's father dies he puts his plans on hold to run the family bank and he is bound to the town. George's leadership is contrasted against Harry F. Potter, "the meanest, richest man in town." Potter owns the other bank and most of the rest of the town.

George uses his position to help the citizens of the town (he knows each family and their situation) whenever he can. His mission is to help hard working people build their first homes with affordable mortgages. Potter uses his position to exploit everyone around him. His mission seems to be to squeeze everything he can from the same people.

Potter resents George and his little bank. He tries just about everything to relieve himself of this rival, including offering George a small fortune to sell his bank and join Potter's organization. Money is tight but George can't bring himself to accept the offer. He knows what it would mean to the townsfolk. George holds out even though it entails considerable hardship for him and his family.

The movie reaches its climax when George's absent minded uncle, whom he employees, misplaces an $8,000 deposit. George and his bank are threatened with bankruptcy and jail. Potter thinks he finally has George right where he wants him – his time has come!

Standing on an icy bridge George is ready to take his own life when his guardian angel intervenes by allowing him to see how the world would be different had George never lived. George discovers just how many lives have been changed for the better through the life he has lived.

George decides to continue on. He returns home to face the music and deal with whatever lies ahead to find a remarkable turn of events awaits him. The same townsfolk he has helped over the years, hardworking people who don't have much to spare, have heard about his plight and are rallying to the solution by contributing what money they can. They make the deposit and all is saved.

George experiences what we might think of as the great exchange, one of the most powerful lessons I promote each week: when you make it clear that you care about the people you lead, they care about you. A lot of leadership works this way, followers respond to what they see in leaders, and yet I meet a great many leaders who spend little or no time with the people they lead, much less demonstrate that they really care about them – then they wonder why their teams are not following them enthusiastically, why sometimes even minor changes seem to meet with such stiff resistance.

George Bailey knows something we would all do well to remember – leadership is all about relationships. Whether you lead a small work group or a large organization, it's about using the power and position you've been given to improve things for the people you are leading. Remember: people follow leaders who are leading them someplace better. Leadership isn't a popularity contest to be sure, and at times a leader must make tough decisions, but each act should be guided by that which is in the best interest of the people being led. So this Christmas, lets all resolve to lead a little more like George.

Discussion Questions:

  1. When were you last faced with choosing between what you would have preferred and your duty to the people you lead?
  2. How are you making the world better for the people you lead?
  3. Can you think of a leader who received the kind of support George Bailey received?

To go deeper on leadership call or write about a half day workshop or a keynote address.

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A Feature Article from Gaynor Consulting Inc.
December 2013   |   By Dan Gaynor


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