Rudolph and Hermey: A Couple of Leadership Misfits

One of my favorite Christmas television specials is the classic Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer narrated by the late Burl Ives. I love the story, I love the characters and I particularly admire the qualities of the lead characters Rudolph and Hermey the elf. Why do I admire the characters and what does this Christmas television classic have to do with leadership?

Well, both Rudolph and Hermey are different and do not fit in. Rudolph, because of his red nose will never become one of the members of Santa’s reindeer team. Hermey detests being an elf and spending his days making toys. He wants to become a dentist. They call themselves a couple of misfits as they do not fit in among their peers and do not meet the expectations of their parents and elders.

As a result they are isolated, shunned, and are not valued for their strengths and what they can bring to their community. They eventually leave and strike out in search of a place where they will be accepted and valued.  A number of obstacles confronted them on their journey but when placed under trying circumstances they demonstrate persistence, courage, and determination as they venture further from their home.

What begins to happen is that Rudolph and Hermey become more confident as they discover strengths that were not appreciated at home. These strengths allow them to take charge of situations, to overcome obstacles, and to lead. Rudolph and Hermey begin to believe in themselves and gain confidence. In fact a couple of misfits become leaders and are eventually called upon by the same people who shunned them to assume leadership roles. Rudolph with his red nose leads Santa’s sled on a stormy Christmas Eve and Hermey prevents the Abominable Snow Monster from attacking Rudolph and others by using his dentistry skills. The Snow Monster is just upset over a sore tooth it turns out. Rudolph and Hermey return home as heroes.

The story of Rudolph and Hermey is fictional, yet their personal journeys to leadership have great significance. Many of us have been in a similar situations where we have not “fit in,” and have been viewed by others - perhaps even by ourselves - as misfits that do not have the capabilities to lead.

As Rudolph and Hermey show us, however, misfits have much to offer. They just have to make the decision to lead. Leaders emerge when they:

1. Discover their strengths, abilities, and passions and use them.

2. Believe in themselves and their unique attributes and embrace the challenges and obstacles they are confronted with.

3. Accept the fact that they can be a leader and that they can influence others.

4. Choose to lead with conviction, determination, and authenticity.

Rudolph and Hermey were different, but they stepped out and stepped up to lead. They did not disqualify themselves from leading. In fact, these two misfits actually fit the profile of Jim Collin's Good-to-Great leaders who "come from Mars... self-effacing, quiet, reserved, even shy - these leaders are a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will."

In the past, the Level 5 leaders described by Collins may have been misfits. But as the research of Collins and others has pointed out, these types of leaders are effective and necessary. So if you see yourself as a Rudolph or Hermey, or if you have someone in your organization like them, take heart. Being a misfit is more than okay, especially when they step up to lead in a positive manner. In such cases, the misfit will probably turn out to be beneficial to your organization.

What are your favourite Christmas classics? Are there characters in these specials whose leadership qualities resonate with you? What leadership strengths stand out?

Wishing all of the Lead Change community a very Merry Christmas!

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