Quotes And Leadership Lessons From IF (Imaginary Friends Movie)

A Reel Leadership Article

My latest book, Reel Leadership, is now available on Amazon. If you love movies and leadership, you will love this book.

IF may be one of the year’s most heartfelt, enjoyable movies. The movie tells the story of a young girl, Bea (Cailey Fleming). Bea has been through a lot, including the loss of her mother (Catharine Daddario) due to cancer.

Fast-forward to now. Her father (John Krasinski) is ill and in the hospital. He’s undergoing an unspecified surgery that could go wrong. Because of this, Bea has moved in with her grandmother (Fiona Shaw).

Girl in a suit and top hat dancing. Behind her are wonderful and imaginary creatures.

She sees something strange moving in the shadows at her grandmother’s apartment building. She follows the suspicious figure upstairs and meets a man, Cal (Ryan Reynolds). He houses a bunch of IFs (Imaginary Friends).

Bea embarks on a journey to help reunite the IFs with new children. Her journey unveils something surprising.

Her journey also unlocks multiple leadership lessons. We’re going to explore those in this Reel Leadership article.

Quotes And Leadership Lessons From IF

1. People will push back against fun:

While visiting her father in the hospital, Bea sees her father dancing with the IV cart. He’s being silly, having fun, trying to lighten the mood.

Bea responds to her father’s silliness by telling him she’s growing up. She’s not a kid anymore, and she doesn’t need this kind of silliness or fun in her life.

She was wrong.

Bea resisted the fun her dad was trying to share with her. Have you noticed this with your people?

They may try to push back against a fun time in the office. You may push back against a fun time in the office.

Understand fun isn’t bad. When you appropriately interject fun, you can increase workplace happiness. 

2. Father:

One day you gotta admit it’ll be one hell of a story.

Bea really resisted the need for fun in her life. She’s had to become serious since her mother passed away and now her father is sick. 

Her father, on the other hand, knew the power of fun. Fun didn’t detract from life. Rather, fun increases the incredible story one will have the ability to tell.

Include fun activities in your life. The more you do, the more stories you’ll be able to tell.

I think of my times with my band of brothers, running the London Marathon, going on vacation with Pamela, and more. These stories are great to share. They’re a look back on a life well lived.

Live a life that helps you tell a great story.

3. Leaders have to have emotional intelligence:

Blue (Steve Carell) was a purple monster (yeah, yeah… he’s called Blue, but he’s purple. There’s a story behind this). He was trying to find a new human to attach to after his human child grew up.

He told Cal that he had met a great child. Cal told him the child cried for an hour.

The child’s terror didn’t deter Blue. He believed he and this child would be a great match. 

He was wrong but he couldn’t see it. He didn’t have the emotional intelligence to understand the child and him didn’t connect.

Emotional intelligence gaps often occur in organizations. Leaders are oblivious to employees’ desires, needs, and wants. They see them as numbers or someone to get work done; they don’t see who they are.

Instead of looking at your needs, use emotional intelligence to discover what the person you’re leading needs. The sooner you can connect on this emotional level, the sooner you’ll be able to form a meaningful connection with them.

When you do this, they will begin to become a great employee.

4. People will put the wrong label on you:

Bea brought up the fact Blue wasn’t blue. He was purple. 

Cal acknowledged this discrepancy. He understood how this happened.

Blue’s original human was colorblind. He didn’t know Blue was purple! The label the child gave Blue stuck with him. He mislabeled Blue!

Maybe you’ve been labeled incompetent, slow, or stupid. Someone saw something negative in you and gave you a label you didn’t want to accept but eventually did.

Understand this: You don’t have to accept the labels people give you. You know who you are. You know what you are. Replace the labels someone else has given you with the ones you know you are.

5. Cal:

Careful what you wish for.

Bea told Cal she wanted things to go back to normal. She didn’t want to see the Imaginary Friends anymore.

She wanted her life to be like it had been. 

Cal called her out. He knew something she didn’t know. Life isn’t meant to be normal. What Bea was wishing for was something she would regret in the future.

When we wish for a normal life, we need to be careful. We don’t know what we’re asking for.

We might want to be free of the responsibilities of leadership. Or we want more sane days. We think having a normal life will make things better.

I don’t believe it will. You’ll soon discover this isn’t true either. You’ll be wondering why you longed for normal. 

6. Cal:

You’re never really alone.

As Bea and Cal searched for a way to help the Imaginary Friends, Cal takes Bea to an amusement park. There, they find the gates locked tight.

Cal begins to walk away. He was going to find the keys to the lock. Bea freaks out. She wants Cal nearby; she doesn’t want to be alone.

Cal reminded Bea she’d never really be alone.

When leadership feels lonely, understand you’re never really alone, especially if you’re a Christian. As a Christian, you can call on God. If you’re not a Christian, you should still have a support system you can call on.

Find people who are willing to be there when you need them. This way, you’ll never be alone.

7. Discover the strengths of your people:

Bea really wants to help place the Imaginary Friends with new humans. She begins to interview them.

There was a wide variety of IFs. They included:

  • Blossom (Phoebe Waller-Bridge)
  • Blue
  • Bubble (Awkwafina)
  • Unicorn (Emily Blunt)
  • Spaceman (George Clooney)
  • Ice (Bradley Cooper)
  • Flower (Matt Damon)
  • Banana (Bill Hader)
  • Art Teacher (Richard Jenkins)
  • Slime (Keegan-Michael Key)
  • Octopuss (Blake Lively)
  • Gummy Bear (Jon Stewart)
  • And others

As she interviewed the Imaginary Friends, she discovered who they were. She learned their names, where they were from, and their purpose. She went deep with them.

How deep have you gone with your employees? Have you tried to get to know them? To understand them?

When you get to understand your team, you get to know who they are. More importantly, you get to know their purpose. Knowing their purpose, you can place them in the right places.

8. You can be enough:

In trying to place IFs, Bea brings many of the IFs to Benjamin (Alan Kim), a young boy in the hospital. IF after IF, Bea asks Benjamin if he can see them.

No… He couldn’t.

Bea apologizes to Benjamin. He tells Bea it is okay. She still has him. Her presence was enough for him.

Sometimes, we think we need the latest gadgets, programs, or perks for our people. We believe these things will keep them in our organizations. 

Many times, what our people need isn’t the latest and greatest. They desire your presence and wisdom in their lives.

Give of yourself to your team. That’s what your employees longing for.

9. You didn’t do it. You and your team did it together:

Cal tells Bea that she did it. She helped find the IFs their people (turns out Bea was able to get the IFs to their original humans). 

Bea corrects Cal. It wasn’t just Bea that did this. She had help in finding the right place for the IFs. It was a team effort.

It’s easy to think things happened because of you. You’re the leader. You made things happen. Right?


But organizations are more than you. They include the people you’re leading and the work they’re doing. Recognize how everyone’s work contributes to success.

10. What we want is often not what we want:

Bea enters her father’s hospital room. She tells him a story about a girl who wanted to grow up.

There was someone who wouldn’t let her grow up. It was her father. 

In the end, she understood she needed to grow up but wasn’t ready to just yet. There was still time to be a kid before she had to be an adult.

She wanted something she didn’t really want.

We can desire things that we don’t really want. We may not understand the weight of leadership, yet we desire to be looked up to. Or we might desire less responsibility but don’t understand how it will impact those we lead.

We often want things that aren’t as beneficial for us as we think they are.

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