The beloved Jimmy Stewart wrote an article for Guidepost magazine back in 2005 in which he recounted the unique opportunity he had to star in the classic Christmas movie, It’s a Wonderful Life.
Stewart recounted, “Good as the script was, there was still something else about the movie that made it different. It’s hard to explain. I, for one, had things happen to me during the filming that never happened in any other pictures I’ve made.”
In one scene Stewart recalls his character, George Bailey, is faced with unjust criminal charges, and not knowing where to turn, ends up in a little restaurant. In the scene, at the lowest point in George Baileys life, he raises his eyes, following the script and prays, “God…God…dear Father in heaven, I’m not a praying man, but if you’re up there and you can hear me, show me the way. I’m at the end of my rope. Show me the way, God…”
“As I said those words,” Stewart confesses, “I felt the loneliness, the hopelessness of people who had nowhere to turn and my eyes filled with tears. I broke down sobbing. This was not planned at all, but the power of that prayer, the realization that our Father in heaven is there to help the hopeless, had reduced me to tears.”
Like the unexpected reaction of Stewart as he recited the lines from his script, the function of leadership in many ways serves the same purpose. During this Christmas week celebration, allow me to share a few thoughts on why being a leader is a gift and how these gifts can make you a stronger leader in the New Year.
Leadership is a gift of servitude. Your rise to the top as a leader is attained not by how many people serve you, but in how many people you serve. When you come to the understanding that your success is tied to the success of others it will change your perspective.
Years ago, the Salvation Army was holding an international convention and their founder, Gen. William Booth, could not attend because of physical weakness. He cabled his convention message to them. It was one word: "OTHERS."
While it may run contrary to popular thinking today, a true leader is one whose dreams come to reality when he helps make the dreams of others a reality. It truly is a wonderful life when as leaders we are empowered to serve.
Stewart recalled how when the movie came out in December of 1946, “from the beginning we could tell it was not going to be the success we hoped for,” he said. “The critics had mixed reactions. Some liked it; others felt it was “too sentimental…a figment of simple Pollyanna platitudes.” As more reviews came out, our hopes sank lower and lower. The postwar public seemed to prefer lighthearted fare. At the end of 1947, It’s a Wonderful Life ranked twenty-seventh in earnings that season. And although it earned several Oscar nominations, despite our high hopes, it won nothing. “Best Picture “for 1946 went to The Best Years of Our Lives. By the end of 1947 the film was quietly put on the shelf.”
Leadership is a gift of second chances. I don’t have to tell you that this has been a tough year for a lot of folks. Like Stewart and his high hopes for It’s a Wonderful Life, you may have experienced disappointment and feel like you have been put on a shelf.
I would like to encourage you to believe that regardless of how you see things today, there is a hope that you can cling to. Stewart added, “But a curious thing happened. The movie refused to stay on the shelf. Those who loved it loved it a lot, and they told others. They wouldn’t let it die any more than the angel Clarence would let George Bailey die. When it began to be shown on TV, a whole new audience fell in love with it. Today, after some 40 years, I’ve heard the film called “an American cultural phenomenon.”
This we know for sure, leaders will be tested. It’s when you walk though the fire and come through difficult times that your leadership is rewarded. You may not have chosen the battles you faced in 2009 nor the challenges before you in 2010. But one thing is for certain, with courage and faith; you can know success you never realized.
Stewart concluded his remarks about the movie saying, “It seems to me that there is nothing phenomenal about the movie itself. It’s simply about an ordinary man who discovers that living each ordinary day honorably, with faith in God and a selfless concern for others, can make for a truly wonderful life.’
I happen to think his words are most appropriate for leaders.
© 2009 Doug Dickerson