I love movies – lots of movies – but I particularly enjoy a “surprise” movie. A surprise movie is that movie you decide to go see because a friend wants to see it or the one you watch because there is nothing else on and you feel like vegging out on the couch. You expect it to be bad, or just okay, and then it turns out that it is really good. I felt that way about Legally Blonde. What could have been a completely ridiculous movie was surprisingly good. But I particularly loved the smart character of Elle Woods — everything you expect plus a whole lot you don’t expect!
As I was reading an article today on the Harvard Business Review blog I realized what great leadership skills Elle actually displayed throughout the movie. The pink-wearing, perky blonde is not our typical image of strong leadership, but read on and I think you might agree that we should all aspire to be a bit more like Elle; she’s an excellent example of strong leadership.
Be confident from the start.
When Elle shares with her college adviser that she is going to go to Harvard Law, she says she has no back-ups. As they run through all she needs to do to make that happen, Elle closes with, “I once had to judge a tighty-whitey contest for Lambda Kappa Pi. Trust me, I can handle anything.” Having confidence is important, because when you’re in a position of leadership there will always be someone or something that is going to push back at you. Leadership is about confidence that the goal can be reached, even if we aren’t exactly sure how we are going to get there.
Don’t be focused on the obstacles, focus on the goal.
As Elle exits her first class, her ex-boyfriend asks how it went. Elle’s response? “Oh, it was okay, except for this horrible preppy girl who tried to make me look bad in front of the professor, but no biggie.” Treating the event as “no biggie” kept her from becoming focused on the obstacle. Anything that requires leadership will undoubtedly have its fair share of challenges. Be prepared to manage those challenges, but don’t let them derail you from the ultimate goal.
Although not typical attire for Harvard lawyers, Elle knows what she likes: “Whoever said orange was the new pink was seriously disturbed!” Leadership is about being genuine and building solid relationships. There is no one mold for the perfect leader. Although Elle didn’t “look” like a leader, it was obvious that she was one.
Be willing to take a risk.
Even when everyone else was sure the wife had killed the husband, Elle was confident that she hadn’t because, “Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands.” Taking a stand – especially when it is not the popular or easy point of view – is the ultimate sign of leadership. Leaders are willing to challenge traditional thinking and able to move people out of their comfort zones even when it results in their own popularity loss.
Know your stuff.
“The rules of hair care are simple and finite. Any Cosmo girl would have known.” And part of knowing your stuff is knowing what you don’t know. Good leadership is about building strong teams, with diverse knowledge, and then knowing when to defer to others.