Frank Capra’s 1946 movie classic “It’s a Wonderful Life” is a holiday staple and moving testimony to the power of a single person and idea. It is an unapologetically sentimental look at the life of an ordinary man doing extraordinary things.
Because of its sentimentality and its annual presence in the crowded schedule of holiday entertainments, it’s easy to overlook some practical, important lessons the movie has to teach us about business and life.
So, as you pack away all of the trappings of the holiday season for another year, let’s take another quick look at George Bailey to see how we can learn from his experiences to be more successful, more relevant, more peaceful and, frankly, happier… how we too can have a Wonderful Life, in 2015 and beyond.
Serve something bigger than yourself
For George, the Building and Loan established by his father and his uncle was often a burden. As a career, it fell far short of George’s grand personal ambitions. Nevertheless, when repeatedly forced by circumstance to remain at the helm of the struggling business, George was tirelessly dedicated to the Building and Loan’s mission: helping people no one else would lend to own their own homes.
Defending the memory of his deceased father and the Building and Loan to his competitor and nemesis, bank owner Mr. Potter, George understood that the people he and his business served did “most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community. Well, is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath?”
You and your company have a mission too, and like the Building and Loan your mission is bigger and more important than might be immediately apparent. Know your mission. Talk about it. Internalize it throughout your organization. A mission asks the question “Why is the world a better place with you in it?” It is a powerful and empowering force.
Respect your team and your customers
In the movie, George repeatedly places the interests of his customers and colleagues ahead of his own. Leaving the church on his wedding day with his bride Mary, George sees that there is something wrong at the bank and the Building and Loan. He’s tempted to continue on, but jumps out of the car and hurries to the business to try to calm his anxious depositors. Finally, he resorts to spending his own money to take care of his customers and keep the business afloat.
At a pivotal point in the movie, a substantial sum is misplaced by George’s absent minded uncle Billy, placing George and the Building and Loan at grave risk. And although he’s furious with Billy, George does not accuse him when seeking assistance from the villainous Mr. Potter. George protects his uncle, as he would any employee by publicly taking responsibility for the misplaced funds.
Your customers’ experiences with your company are a direct reflection of the way you and your company treat your associates. Treat your people with respect, give them the information and resources they need, and encourage them to go above and beyond for your customers. Amazing things will happen.
Lean on your supporters
When he experiences a potentially devastating personal crisis, it never occurs to George that the good work he has done throughout his life has earned him the admiration of friends, family and customers.
Feeling absolutely alone in his despair, George contemplates ending his life when a guardian angel, Clarence, helps George understand the significance of his life by showing him a world where he never existed. It is, of course, a much darker world. Through this experience, George is allowed to see how impactful his life has been.
His belief in himself and his contributions restored, George returns home to his family not knowing what the future will hold. Shortly after arriving, George is overwhelmed by the love and support of his community of friends and customers, and grateful to Clarence (who has finally earned his wings).
In the conduct of our businesses and our careers, we all have the opportunity to make the world a better place for the people we work with and the people we serve. When problems, opportunities or challenges arise, look to your colleagues and customers for advice and direction. Don’t wait ’til you’re in crisis. Open up lines of communication. Ask for feedback. Demonstrate your eagerness to include your people in the conversation that drives your growth.
How does your company express its mission? What policies and practices exist to help people feel engaged and important? What systems do you have in place to listen to and respond to the concerns of employees and customers? Can you think of a time when you benefited from the support of an associate or customer just because of the quality of your relationship?
As we begin 2015, I wish you and yours a best-ever new year. I’m grateful for your interest in these posts and for your comments. As always, if you liked this or any other of my articles, I hope you’ll share them. I’m shooting for a much larger audience by the time 2016 rolls around.