Quotes And Leadership Lessons From It’s A Wonderful Life

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.

Welcome to the another installment of the Christmas At The Movies Reel Leadership series. In partnership with The Gateway Church, I’ve been writing about the life and leadership lessons from classic Christmas movies while the church has been preaching on them. It’s a perfect partnership and one I’m thankful for.

Red movie theater curtains

This week, The Gateway Church dove into A Charlie Brown Christmas but I thought it was going to be It’s A Wonderful Life. Because of this snafu, you get an extra Christmas At The Movies Reel Leadership post. The film is one of those OG Christmas movies released in 1946. That puts it at almost 80 years old.

There’s a lot to be learned from the story of George Bailey (James Stewart) based on the Charles Dickens story. George is a man who has done everything for everyone else. He put his dreams on hold to help others. As his life progressed, he felt his life meant very little.

Scene from It's A Wonderful Life. Mary has given George their honeymoon money to give to the people who had money in the Bailey Bros. company.

Little did George know that his life had changed everyone’s life around him. From his brother Harry (Todd Karns) to Uncle Billy (Thomas Mitchell) to Ernie (Frank Faylen) to Mr. Gower (H.B. Warner). His small, consistent, selfless acts improved the lives of those around him.

That’s not the story of most modern-day stories or movies. It’s all about the self. It’s about getting yours. But, as we find out in It’s A Wonderful Life, our wonderful lives are not about us. They’re about the people we impact along the way.

Let’s dive into the leadership lessons in It’s A Wonderful Life.


Quotes And Leadership Lessons From It’s A Wonderful Life

1. Prayer changes things:

It’s A Wonderful Life opens with many of the people in George’s life praying for him. They ask for God to protect him, keep him safe, and bless him.

This night was a crucial night in George’s life. It was the night George was considering taking his life.

That didn’t happen. Instead, George jumped off the bridge and into the frigid water to “save” Clarence (Henry Travers), an angel sent to guide him.

Prayer can seem flippant, ineffective, or outright ludicrous to many. Yet, prayer is powerful. Prayer can change things.

Take the time to pray for your coworkers. Pray for your spouse and family. Pray for your organization.

Your prayers are heard. Make sure they’re prayed.

2. Senior Angel (Moroni Olsen):

No, he’s discouraged.

Two angels are talking as they begin to discuss George Bailey. There was Joseph (Joseph Granby) and then the Senior Angel. They’re watching over the people on Earth when they see George is about to get into trouble.

They discuss what to do. That’s when they call on Clarence. They would send Clarence, an angel without wings, to go and help him during his darkest days.

Clarence asks what was wrong. He first asks if George is sick. The Senior Angel informs Clarence it is much worse. 

George is discouraged.

Do you ever think of how powerful the emotion and feeling of discouragement is? It’s powerful. And dangerous.

When people are discouraged, they give up hope. They become wandering generalities. They give up.

Watch your people. Look for discouragement.

When you see discouragement, encourage those around you. Perk them up. Give them hope.

3. Peter Bailey (Samuel S. Hinds):

He hates anyone who has something he doesn’t have.

At a family dinner, George asks his father what’s wrong with Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore). Mr. Potter was a local land baron buying up anything and everything he could get his hands on. Worse, he would also take advantage of the vulnerable.

How did he do this? Foreclosing on people’s homes. High interest rates. Any lowdown, dirty method you can think of.

Peter answered frankly. Mr. Potter did all of this because he was greedy. Mr. Potter wanted more than others. And he would go to great links to ensure that he had more.

Beware the allure of greed. It can rear its ugly head slowly over time. 

Greed will cause you to do things that will hurt others. You’ll see them as pawns in the grander scheme of things.

Greed will cause you to hate others who have more than you.

4. Your work has meaning:

George was an adventurer at heart. He desired to travel to faraway countries, explore unknown areas, and more! On the other hand, his father ran a local building and loan company called Bailey Bros. Building & Loans Association.

When Peter asked George to work for him, George replied that he wanted to travel and do something important. Peter didn’t miss a beat. He told George that what they did at Bailey Bros. was important. They fulfilled people’s dreams of owning their own homes.

Stop and think. Do you find your work has meaning? Why or why not?

What if you looked at your work in the way Peter did? Could your opinion of your work change? Could your work have meaning?

Your work does have meaning. You’re helping others live a productive life. You might be providing furniture that is both comfortable and beautiful. Or you may provide a service that allows people to feel comfortable in their own skin.

Look deeper into your work. Your work has meaning.

5. George Bailey:

I can personally vouch for his character.

Peter Bailey passes away. Mr. Potter comes in and wants to shut down Bailey Bros. He claimed the company was full of dreamers. Of people who helped those who didn’t have the means to pay back their debts.

Then, a man came in looking for a loan. Mr. Potter said the man wouldn’t qualify for a loan. George steps in and says that he could vouch for the man’s character. The man would do whatever he needed to do to pay back the loan.

Great leaders look at more than skills and talents. They know a great worker is more than that. A great worker has character.

Look for character in the people you hire. Then, stand up for those employees.

Employees with character can be far more valuable than those without. 

6. Great leaders stand by their principles:

George gets married to Mary (Donna Reed). His family is struggling financially when Mr. Potter makes him an offer to give up Bailey Bros.

First, he asks George how much he makes. George says he makes $45 a week. Mr. Potter then offers him $20,000 a year (that’s over $300,000 a year in 2023).

George considers this. He asks Mr. Potter for 24 hours to consider it. He gets up to leave, shakes Mr. Potter’s hand, and then speaks up.

He’s made up his mind. He wasn’t going to sell or close down the company. He couldn’t work for a man like Mr. Potter.

Our principles make us who we are. We have to know what we stand for and do that. Not what others think we should do.

Be a leader who stands by their principles. Don’t give in to the shifting sands. 

Your principles matter. They’ll lead you further than anything else.

7. Beware of your emotions:

Uncle Billy went to the bank to deposit $8,000 of Bailey Bros. money. He runs into Mr. Potter at the bank and accidentally gives him the money.

This money was almost everything Bailey Bros. had. Without it, they could go under. Worse, Uncle Billy and George could go to jail.

This infuriates George. He loses his temper. He shakes Uncle Billy, yells at him, and tells him that HE, not George, is going to jail.

The actions of George shook Uncle Billy. They shook George. He knew he’d lost it.

Our actions are a reflection of what’s in our hearts and minds. Be cautious of letting those emotions run wild.

You’ll hurt others. And you’ll hurt yourself.

8. God makes a way:

George was ready to end his life. He went to the bridge and prayed. He wasn’t a religious man, and he was prepared to jump.

The prayer George prayed was that God would make a way. That’s when Clarence rushed to the bridge and jumped in the water. 

Once again, prayer is a powerful tool. It changes the way things are going.

When you pray, God makes a way.

9. Clarence:

You just don’t know all that you’ve done.

George believed his life was one screw-up, one weak-willed decision after another. His actions didn’t matter. His life didn’t matter.

Clarence knew better. He knew George made a difference in every life he met in his little town. 

To make his point, Clarence made it as if George never existed. He took him around the town to see what it would be like.

Life in Bedford Falls was drastically different.

People treated each other differently. Mr. Gower becomes an addict. Sleazy entertainment businesses popped up. His brother would have died. And so much more.

But, because of George, the lives of the people in Bedford Falls were much different. Much better.

You may not realize it, but your life impacts those around you. Your influence on them changes them.

Be the best you that you can be for those around you. Be the positive influence you were meant to be.

10. When you help others, others help you:

Mary tells the people in Bedford Falls that George is in trouble. He needs their help. 

The townsfolk pitched in to help the Baileys. They gave and gave and gave some more. Even George’s childhood friend Sam Wainwright (Frank Albertson) wired $25,000 to help.

You may think your good deeds go unnoticed. They don’t.

People recognize the good you’re doing. They understand the help you’re giving.

When given a chance, they will return the help you’ve provided.

What Next?

If you’d like to watch a modern-day take on the It’s A Wonderful Life story, I highly recommend watching Nicolas Cage in Family Man. It’s a fresh, modern take on this classic film. In fact, it was one of my favorite movies when I was younger. I think you’ll enjoy it if you enjoyed It’s A Wonderful Life.

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