7 Galentine’s Day Lessons in Leadership from Leslie Knope, Managerial Muse

Posted by Allie Bornstein on 2/13/24 2:48 PM
Allie Bornstein
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Galentines Day

Since it was first introduced on NBC's sitcom Parks and Recreation, Galentine’s Day has become a real thing, embraced around the world as a day for women to celebrate and support each other. For me, it’s also become a day of revisiting some very real leadership lessons shared by the show’s iconic lead character, Leslie Knope.

While her insights were often delivered with humor, there's much to be gleaned for anyone aiming to be a better manager, build a better team, and foster greater employee happiness. Here are a few of my favorite ways to incorporate some Parks and Rec wisdom into your team-building management style.

Recognize that everyone deserves to be part of a team that’s right for them.

"Go find your team. Get to work. Whatever that work is that you find worth doing. Do it, and find some people to love who'll do it with you." Human beings crave a sense of belonging, of community, and of shared purpose. When we find our team, we don’t just do better work. We are inspired to help others do their best. We grow, not just in our careers but in our lives. And when we’re securely on that path, we have a much better chance of finding our strongest, most resilient selves and sense of purpose.

Celebrate Milestones as Stepping Stones to Success

"We need to celebrate everything we’ve done together as a group," proclaims Leslie. She’s right. Admired leaders never limit “recognition” to formal activities. They don’t reserve their applause for top performers. They live recognition every day, in the ways they greet people, check in on them, and notice what they’re doing. They enthusiastically thank team members for their efforts, and take the time to acknowledge the challenges they’ve met along the way. A boss who fosters this culture of gratitude not only boosts morale but also reinforces a team’s conviction in their ability to succeed when they support each other.

Deliver Feedback with Honesty and Compassion

“When you love something, you don't threaten it. You don't punish it. You fight for it. You take care of it. You put it first.”

If you can’t love your team or believe they’re worth fighting for, they know. And you know what follows: your employees won’t feel motivated to give their best for you or the team, either.

When employees feel valued and understand the vision and passion behind their leader's actions, they reciprocate with collaboration, effort, kindness, and a shared commitment to the organization’s goals. Yes, there will be times when someone’s performance is off. Harder still, you may discover that an employee simply isn’t in the right place, that they’re not the right fit for your team’s needs. Those are painful realities and tough conversations. But a lot is riding on your ability to keep your focus on the well-being of the whole team and the dignity of each individual on it (including – especially – the ones who are in the wrong job). If you’re able to sift through the heat of the moment, extract the kernels of progress from the chaff of mistakes, and deliver authentic, constructive feedback, your team will know they can trust you.

Admit What You Don't Know or Can't Do Well

“I'm going to be direct and honest with you. I would like a glass of red wine and I'll take the cheapest one you have because I can't tell the difference.” There are few things as powerful as sincerity in forging trust and forming real connections with others. This applies to leadership as well. When leaders acknowledge their limitations or lack of knowledge in certain areas, they demonstrate the very human qualities that engage others and invite their loyalty. They are secure in their capabilities, comfortable delegating to others, and curious to understand new things. Know-it-alls, on the other hand, may initially fool some with a facade of competence, but they quickly lose their team's trust when the veneer starts to crack. An honest leader who owns their imperfections invites their team to foster a genuine culture of support and collective learning, creating an environment where trust is the foundation and growth is a shared journey.

Ask for Help

"I need you to text me every 30 seconds that everything is going to be OK." Leslie knows which colleagues she can call on when she’s struggling. And she calls on them. Couldn’t most of us do a better job of recognizing when going it alone is too hard to be wise or healthy? A manager’s strength lies in their willingness to expose their vulnerability,  ask for the support they need, and recognize the right of everyone else to do the same.  For some, this might require a shift of mindset, choosing to nurture a culture of collectivism over rugged individualism.

Rally the Troops when Times are Tough

"Sometimes you have to make the hardest climb to see the most beautiful sunrise." In any organization, no matter how successful or well-poised it may be, there will be challenging times. Markets change. Technology stumbles. Pandemics catch us off guard. Sometimes the challenges are little more than a hiccup. Other times, they’re serious and long-lasting, breeding uncertainty and fear. It’s in those darkest hours that team members look to their leaders, not just for guidance, but for reassurance and inspiration. It’s important to remind everyone that the current struggle is just one part of the journey toward a shared goal. But it’s equally important to acknowledge that disruptions can also be times for self-reflection. That's a good thing. Good leaders recognize and respect this, leaving the door open for their employees to share when their job needs or career goals are shifting. Strong leaders do more, offering their support even if it means supporting a valued employee's decision to pursue a different set of dreams. 

Self-Care Isn't a Trend; It's a Prerequisite

In one episode, Leslie leaves herself a short voicemail. “Hey, Leslie. It’s Leslie. Hang in there. I love you. Bye.” Self-preservation goes hand-in-hand with competent leadership. As a leader, manager, or just someone who motivates, prioritizing personal well-being isn't selfish—it's foundational to staying charged and ready to champion your team's cause.

Team building isn't just about sharing the vision or making grand gestures. It’s also about embracing the minute, everyday practices that build a legacy of true, unforgettable leadership. Latch onto these leadership lessons and motivate your team to success—and remember, always strive to "Be the Leslie Knope of whatever you do."

If you're an employer looking for a leader who embodies these traits or a talented professional searching for the right team, reach out to the SkyWater Search expert who specializes in your industry. We would love to connect.

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Topics: Human Resources, Workplace Culture