Leadership Lessons from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! One of my favorite things about the month of December, in addition to the Christmas lights and nativity scenes, is the movies that bring back wonderful memories from my childhood. My 3-year old daughter and I have already watched Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer at least five times since the special aired last week (gotta love DVRs!). I’ve literally seen this movie hundreds of times over the years, but last night it really got me thinking about the lessons we can learn from Rudolph’s journey.

Of course, there are the obvious lessons about practicing the Golden Rule and treating others as you would like to be treated. We see how teasing and bullying can make people feel alone. We witness a father who just wants his kid to be like all the other kids and a boss who wants his employee to conform even though he doesn’t enjoy his work of making toys. We see how empty people can feel when they’re not living within their life’s purpose. And then Rudolph saves Christmas because he’s unique, because he’s different. His shiny nose, which caused him to be an outcast, makes him a hero!

Who are the real leaders in this story? I see one leader who rises above the rest. Remember Rudolph’s doe friend, Clarice? Even after Rudolph is shunned by his coach and the other reindeer, she still wants him to walk her home. She is a true role model, unafraid to be seen with the “red-nosed reindeer” that everyone teases. She sees Rudolph’s potential long before he sees that potential within himself and certainly before Santa realizes that Rudolph is his key to saving Christmas! When Rudolph complains about how he’ll never fit in, she reminds him: “There’s always tomorrow for dreams to come true. Believe in your dreams, come what may.” After Rudolph runs away, she selflessly goes to find him with his parents.

Remember, leaders model the way. Clarice, with your soft, gentle nature, you showed us what it means to be a servant leader. You showed us the essence of empathy; you are an encourager and a true believer in the potential of others.

The other real leader in the story is Rudolph. Sure, he doesn’t start out as a leader. He runs away from home because he believes he’s a misfit. He then runs away from his misfit friends because he thinks he will do them more harm than good. But in the end, Rudolph shines (literally)! He returns home to face those who excluded him. He brings his family, his dear Clarice, and his misfit friends together. Then he’s offered the opportunity to save Christmas by leading the reindeer team through the terrible blizzard with his shiny nose, and he says yes! Think about it. He says yes to Santa, the man who said Rudolph would never make the sleigh team. When Santa utters those famous words, “Rudolph, with your nose so bright, won’t you guide my sleigh tonight?” he replies with humble conviction, “It would be an honor, sir.”

What’s more, Rudolph forgives Santa, his father, and everyone who made fun of him over the years. And most importantly, he honored his commitment to his homeless friends on the Island of Misfit Toys and led Santa to them so they could fulfill their dreams of having a home.

Thanks, Rudolph and Clarice! I’ve learned a lot from you over the years, and I hope to pass on what I’ve learned to my family, friends, blog readers, and clients. More importantly, I hope to be a leader who makes a difference.

Reflection Questions:

  • How many times do we go along with the crowd rather than standing up for what we believe?
  • How often do we have the opportunity to reach out to someone in their time of need and look the other way?
  • How often do we run away when things don’t go our way?
  • Who haven’t you forgiven?

December is a great month for reflection. Look back at this year. What was right? What was wrong? What was missing? Be honest. Give thanks for all that is right, and commit to making 2011 your best year ever!

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