Who would have thought that the world’s first fashion-forward doll will be giving us some powerful leadership lessons from. The recently released Barbie movie takes us into the sun-soaked, glitter-drenched fantasyland and yet gets us thinking of the paradigms that have been broken over time and where leadership needs to go.
From the importance of purpose to managing change, the role of diversity and inclusion, and believing in oneself, this movie shows Barbie’s character undergoing a metamorphosis. Barbies’ adventures in the movie teach us some valuable leadership lessons especially in resilience and strength as she navigates a world that is definitely not pink.
We outline some key leadership lessons from the movie without spoilers.
Resilience is the name of the game.
Women rule the world in Barbie-land but in the real world, Barbie realizes that the opposite is true. Barbie’s journey in the movie is riddled with obstacles, none of them low on the challenge index. Despite the complete change in environment, Barbie remains resilient and does not give up. She can overcome all hurdles and challenges because of her unwavering belief in herself. Barbie teaches us that when the going gets tough, the tough get going and get help from the right resources.
Navigating leadership challenges is not easy in today’s world of work. Leaders must understand that it is not only important to seek help but also to look for help in the right place. When Barbie experiences strange thoughts and feelings she seeks help from Weird Barbie. Weird Barbie is compassionate and understanding, gave her a safe space to unload, and helped her figure things out. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness but is the smartest thing to do. But most people avoid seeking help for fear of judgment.
When things get tough, it can be natural to experience self-doubt. However, leaders have to develop their resilience and self-confidence such that it inspires their team. As disruption becomes constant in the world of work, identifying the gaps that impede self-confidence and impact resilience becomes crucial for leaders.
Change is constant. Change is hard.
Change is front and center in the Barbie movie. In the movie, Barbie initially tries her best to resist the change. She wants to maintain the status quo but soon realizes that embracing change is essential to change something.
Kate McKinnon’s Weird Barbie astutely points out in the movie that not only is change a constant, but the resistance to change exists and that it is hard. But the movie also shows that when a vision is communicated successfully and when leadership shares the process with those who are most likely to enact that change, then change can be executed successfully.
True power comes from connection.
It is assumed that people are likely to follow those who come into power from position. The movie, however, goes on to show that power, instead, comes from a place of connection. The movie also dissects the belief that leaders are expected to know everything.
Weird Barbie, for example, does not have structural authority but she has expert information and power. She takes the time to engage fully with the other Barbies, understands their perspectives, communicates clearly, leads by example, and is fully transparent. These traits build authentic connections with her team and drive authentic influence.
Leaders in today’s world of work need to take a cue from Barbie and internalize the fact that the measure of true power lies in environments that foster belonging and connection.
Leaders as such need to identify ways of connecting with their workforce with more authenticity, empathy, and understanding as the world of work becomes hybrid. These approaches foster and encourage greater employee engagement and consequently influence productivity more positively.
Success lies in diversity and inclusion.
Had the makers of the Barbie movie sent Ken to ‘rescue’ her then we, and many like us, wouldn’t be writing about the lessons we can learn from it. The movie is a refreshing departure from the gender-defined roles that have been negotiated so far and compels us to reflect on the changing world around us.
One of the biggest leadership lessons that this movie gives us is diversity and inclusion. Barbie is a leader who can unite people and sees value in leveraging their unique strengths and perspectives and achieving common goals. By hearing all of the different voices Barbie manages to create a nurturing and enabling environment that becomes conducive to success.
To work with diverse teams and build an inclusive culture, leaders need to identify their limiting beliefs and assess what is holding them back from hearing the voices of their teams. In today’s world, leaders can foster innovation and growth only when they can create psychologically safe spaces that value different thoughts and perspectives.
Empathy and compassion fuel team success.
In the picturesque world of Barbie-land, everything was perfect. Their world had no problems. Barbie here was so inwardly focused that they failed to notice that others were struggling and facing multiple challenges.
Leaders can often become so focused on their world that they think everything is perfect. But this movie shows that leaders are meant to serve others… that true leadership is about knowing that just because you are happy, doesn’t mean everyone else is.
Barbie also shows us that accepting mistakes and remaining humble are important qualities to transcend. While it is important for leaders to be empathetic and compassionate to others they must extend the same courtesy to themselves as well.
In this movie, we see how empathy and compassion are crucial to building meaningful relationships, creating a supportive and positive workplace, and an environment where everyone is valued and motivated to perform at their best. It also shows that it’s great to keep an open mind and to listen and learn from one’s mistakes to foster workplace relations.
The value of self-worth.
For most leaders, self-worth is almost inextricably linked with their job roles or salary packages. These sources of validation become fragile as they come from external sources. The movie shows that external sources of validation often lead us to make wrong tactical decisions. While these might work at first, it is only a matter of time before we lose our footing.
Ken’s sense of self, for example, is directly linked with Barbie’s validation. However, Barbie shows him that he needs to identify who he is separate from her. Enmeshment, whether in relationships or the workplace, only leads to confusion. The movie poignantly points out that true strength, resilience, and leadership come from within and are capabilities that can be developed.
Leaders must have objective and data-backed insights into their strengths and weaknesses to avoid the trap of self-doubt. Looking at coaching improves leadership skills and makes them relevant for the real world builds up leadership confidence and leads to better outcomes.
Don’t check out – stay checked in.
You might think your actions are the best, but they can produce opposite results – this is one of the biggest leadership lessons from the Barbie movie. When Barbie comes into the real world, she is shocked to know that she hasn’t been empowering women all these years. Barbie is horrified to know that she has been making girls and women feel self-conscious and horrible.
Awareness of our actions is critical for those in leadership roles. Leaders may desire to do good and might even think that they are doing good – but if the results don’t show the same, then they’re not doing good.
Leaders need to conduct regular check-ins to evaluate the impact of their actions on others and the organizations. Coaches are a great source to help them course-correct proactively to remain relevant and impactful in today’s dynamic world of work.
While there are many leadership lessons in the movie, the narrative explores the role that Barbie plays as a mentor and how she empowers others to overcome challenges. It also shows the role of getting help from the right sources to lead with conviction and confidence. Her involvement with others creates a lasting impact on building the next generation of successful leaders.
There are some important messages here – that leaders are not perfect and that they do not need to be. That seeking help and guidance are often the best things to do and that the real job of the leader is to enable the success of others.
Only those leaders who are highly self-aware can dig deep into their reservoirs of compassion and empathy, have a growth mindset, and can inspire trust and coach their teams for success can thrive in today’s world. The role of coaching cannot be ignored to develop impactful leaders who can lead with confidence in a rapidly changing, complex world of work.
Connect with us to see how you can build leaders who inspire others and bring about positive change for all around them. Just like Barbie.