Every year, my wife and I sit down and watch White Christmas. I will admit, this is one of my favorite Christmas movies ever made. I enjoy listening to the music in the movie and the premise is wholesome. However, this year, I watched it and noticed something unforgettable.
In the beginning of the movie, we are shown a wartime scene with military men gathered around watching a show. A jeep pulls up with the current general, General Waverly, who is leaving, and the new general who will be taking over. The new general complains and makes a remark to the old general about the men watching a show during wartime and not being ready for battle. General Waverly does his best to agree with what was said, and when General Waverly is dropped off, he tells the driver to take the “shortcut” to headquarters to get the new general signed in.
There is a distinct difference in leadership qualities in each general. The new general is shown as being a rule follower, strict, by the book, and has an all-work mentality. General Waverly, on the other hand, is much different. As the jeep speeds away, Waverly slowly creeps into the back with the group of soldiers. The soldiers who see him start to get up to salute and show respect, but the general quickly dismisses them and tells them to sit down as he finds a place to sit in the back. As the show comes to an end, Crosby’s character starts talking about the general and how they will all miss him. He expresses his fondness for the general and the gratitude he has for him. At this point, General Waverly stands up, yells everyone to attention, and starts to play the part of a general. He walks through the men giving them grief for being a “sloppy outfit” and “unruly”, and then he finishes by giving them all a compliment and telling them how much he will miss them all.
Fast forward to near the end of the movie, and Crosby’s character wants to give General Waverly a surprise. The general has put all that he owns into a ski lodge in Vermont, and due to the lack of snow, the lodge is losing money. Crosby goes on national television and invites all of the 151st Division to the lodge in Vermont that the general owns. When Crosby finishes, the next scene shows the train station in Vermont bustling with all the former members of the 151st Division.
By now you are either reliving the movie in your mind, clueless about what I’m talking about, or you’re asking what any of this has to do with leadership. Even though General Waverly is not the main character in the movie, his actions and characteristics show what true leadership should look like. General Waverly cared about his men. In the beginning of the movie, it was very clear that General Waverly knew his men. He trusted and respected them. He never saw himself as a person greater than his men because of his rank. He sat with troops, enjoyed time being in community, and became strict only when needed. However, his strictness was met with kindness and sincerity. He truly cared about his men and would do anything for them; even allow them much needed Christmas Eve cheer in the middle of a war.
What can we learn from General Waverly? Kindness and sincerity means more than rules and policy. Understanding your people and showing genuine care for them creates an environment of trust and respect. Putting your people first builds loyalty and respect among leadership and their staff. A leader willing to see the people they lead as important members of a team will establish a culture that is committed to mutual respect. Leadership is more than a title. It’s one life influencing another. General Waverly created and established a legacy among his men due to his leadership. His men, in turn, honored, respected, and supported their general years after the end of the war.
As a leader, what legacy are you establishing? Are you building a community of trust, respect, honor, and genuine care? Will the people you lead stand with you when times get hard? Do your people see you as someone worth following? Do your people feel genuinely cared about and respected? At the end of the day, when you are in a difficult spot, will your people come together and help you, or will you be left to fight alone? Your legacy will depend on how you treat those you lead. More importantly, your legacy will depend on how you treat those around you.
Leadership is not about titles, the corner office, or the big paycheck. Leadership is about seeing the people around you as people of worth and value. You are a leader if you choose to be. True leadership is a choice. I encourage you to see yourself for who you really are. Don’t follow the crowd, don’t succumb to social media antics, treat people with respect and dignity, and leave a legacy of honor, respect, and appreciation.