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  • Tom Birchard

Lessons from George Bailey Applied to Business

One of my wife Ashley’s family Christmas traditions is watching the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life”. We maintained that tradition this year watching the movie a couple nights ago on Christmas Eve as we experienced our first white Christmas as a married couple! As we were watching it and the journey of the main character, George Bailey, I started to think of several lessons and parallels to business today and figured I’d touch on a few of them in this post.

· Put Customers First – It’s clear throughout the movie that George continues the legacy of his father by putting his customers first as he seeks to provide affordable loans and housing. In my career and especially in the capacity of leading teams, I’ve found that a focus on employee engagement and delighting customers is generally the most effective despite an overabundance of other data and metrics vying for attention. One of our Trane account managers shared with me the acronym C.A.P. that I think is fitting here. Customers, Associates, and THEN Profits.

· A Purpose Beyond Money – Speaking of profits, I think another key lesson from the movie is to have a purpose beyond just money. From a purely financial perspective, the more money-driven Mr. Potter is shown to be more “successful” than George, but ultimately George is shown to lead a more fulfilling life due to his sense of purpose. I’m currently reading “The Infinite Game” by Simon Sinek and he talks about organizations having both will and resources. While will is the motivation within an organization, resources are largely financial in nature. Finite-minded leaders will generally prioritize resources over will, especially in difficult times, while infinite-minded leaders will stick with will which will drive trust and long-term viability.

· Don’t Lose Sight of the Job at Hand – Early in the movie it’s clear that George Bailey is a dreamer. He aspires to leave the small town of Bedford Falls he grew up in, travel the world, and ultimately build big things. Ironically the last thing he wants to do ends up being his life’s calling, and that’s to lead his late father’s Bailey and Building Loan business. While I think it’s good to dream big and have aspirations, it’s also important to not lose sight of whatever job needs to be done right now. Life has a way of throwing curveballs, and George certainly gets his fair share. While your current job or situation might not be your ultimate goal, you should always do your best as there’s a good chance that’s where you’re most needed right now.

· Family Focus – George has a large family with his wife Mary and 4 young kids. There’s a point in the movie where he lets the extreme stress of a work situation impact how he speaks to them and treats them on Christmas Eve. Most of us are unlikely to have the good fortune where an angel named Clarence who’s looking to earn his wings comes and sets us straight (but hey you never know). Therefore it’s important to remember to always keep family as the focus and not let work or business issues bleed into how we relate to those closest to us.

· Do What’s Right, Always – Trane recently named 7 leadership principles to help define how we should lead within the company, and one of those is “do what’s right, always”. George is faced with an ethical dilemma when his Uncle Billy misplaces a significant chunk of money right in the middle of a financial audit. Once again the angel Clarence helps to point George in the right direction, and it’s only after he’s willing to admit what happened and accept the consequences, that George is granted a way out of his predicament at the conclusion of the movie.

Ok so admittedly some of these are probably a bit of a stretch in trying to find current day business lessons from a Christmas movie first released over 70 years ago. Still I hope you found something in here that’s worthwhile. For those that have seen “It’s a Wonderful Life”, are there any other lessons that come to mind for you? Thanks for reading and I hope each of you and your family and friends had a safe and Merry Christmas!

Recommendations from last two weeks:

· Article - Do Not Disturb: How I Ditched My Phone and Unbroke My Brain by Kevin Roose – This article hit close to home as I’ve found myself increasingly attached to my smartphone. I’ve implemented some of Kevin’s tips over the last 2 weeks and while I still have a ways to go, I can tell it’s making a positive difference.

· TV Show - The Crown – So I think I’m a little late to the party on this one but Ashley and I just finished season 1 of The Crown on Netflix and really enjoyed it. They just released season 4 so we have a ways to go. Despite never being that interested in the British royal family, this show is very interesting from a historical perspective and has excellent acting and is just overall very well done. If you’ve run out of good TV and movies while staying mostly at home and haven’t watched The Crown, I recommend checking it out.

· Article - Running Out of Time Before Running Out of Money by Nick Maggiulli – Of Dollars and Data is my favorite finance blog and this post ties in well with what I’ve written today. I’d also encourage watching the short video at the end of Nick’s post.

· QuoteAll you can take with you is that which you’ve given away. by Peter Bailey (George Bailey’s dad in “It’s a Wonderful Life”)

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