Six Muppet-Inspired Leadership Lessons

Muppet_show_cast1Before Saturday Night Live, Kids in the Hall, and In Living Color, The Muppet Show was my comedy variety show. If I can give credit to any singular media outlet, it goes to Jim Henson’s brainchild. Toggling between irreverent and poignant, it never failed to deliver quality entertainment. So you can imagine how I excited I am to re-introduce the Muppets to my kids in their new primetime show.

To gear up for this joyous occasion, let’s ramp up our leadership skills with a few ways that they (and some corresponding research) can help us be more effective communicators, influencers, and team builders.

Beat Drums! Beat Drums!

Animal_IconWhen I watch Animal wildly release his fury on the drummers, it appears to be so cathartic; yet, he always seems to finish his set with just as much ire as when he started. Contrary to what we’ve been told, research shows that releasing your anger may not lead to greater personal happiness. One study found that hitting a punch-bag while thinking about the person who made you angry actually makes you angrier. And losing your temper has been associated with poorer health. So don’t be an Animal. Instead of unleashing all your frustrations or trying to bottle them up, find constructive outlets that address your aggravation.

The Power of Moi

misspiggy_1024convIf Miss Piggy seems a bit self-obsessed, first, who can blame her? She can sing, dance, and perform better than most of the pigs trying to make in in Hollywood today. Second, her inflated self-esteem is an advantage to the team. A 2010 study found that having a few narcissists on the team has a beneficial effect on the group’s creativity. When teams of four people were challenged to come up with new solutions, the groups with two narcissists performed the best.

Stuben Der Bork Bork Bork

swedish chefThe preeminent television cooking show host does not need words to teach you how to get around in a kitchen. The Swedish Chef has mastered non-verbal communication just like he masters his recipes. His lesson is simple – utilize more hand gestures. A recent study found that leaders who do not use hand gestures are perceived as distant, whereas the leader with positive hand gestures was considered to be friendlier and more attractive.

Wocka Wocka

Fozzie2As stand up comic extraordinaire Fozzie Bear shows us, we can all use a little more humor in the workplace. This can’t just come from the team; your role as leader must involve instigating the jokes. According to research, a leader’s humor style is positively associated with job satisfaction and the effects increase with increasing subordinate tenure. But be warned, humor is only effective when the leader–subordinate relationship is positive. It will have an adverse affect if there’s a sour relationship.

They aren’t half bad. Nope, they’re ALL bad!

Statler and WaldorfEasily my favorite characters from the Muppet Show, Statler and Waldorf sit on the balcony providing less–than-constructive commentary. With all their grumbling, these two gentlemen should be anxiety-free. Unfortunately, they epitomize the research showing that complaining doesn’t make us feel better; it makes us feel much worse. In studies of “e-venting” – expressing anger via email, text or on social media – people report that they feel better afterwards, but the research finds that they actually become angrier and more aggressive. Don’t let your Statlers and Waldorfs dominate the conversation or occupy the culture. Help them find more productive way of expressing themselves.

Hi-ho

kermitOrganizing and directing this unruly bunch takes a certain type of leader. Kermit the Frog has been successfully managing this team for 40 years. Without disparaging the Muppets, it is safe to say that they are not exactly A-players; without Kermit, their quirks and lack of focus would not make them marketable (Lew “fish thrower” Zealand, notwithstanding). To manage B-players, Kermit possesses the three personality characteristics discussed in a recent Harvard Business Review article.

  1. He has better judgment than his counterparts, including the ability to learn from experience and avoid repeating mistakes;
  2. He has higher Emotional Intelligence, which helps him stay calm under pressure, remain humble, and build meaningful relationships; and
  3. He has a high level of ambition and is never complacent.

Embrace your inner Muppet to become a more effective leader. Whether you’re facilitating a strategy group, implementing some organizational changes, or trying to get a bunch of chickens to dance (a la Gonzo), consider how your felt-covered friends would handle the situation. You may want to consider doing the opposite, but knowing what-not-to-do can be just as useful.