Leadership Lessons from Cinderella

Last weekend, my husband and I went to see the local high school production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella

As I watched, I couldn’t help but notice some connections between the fairy tale and some important leadership behaviors.

Let’s start with Cinderella’s stepmother.  She clearly favors her biological daughters over her stepdaughter.  This happens in the workplace as well.  The employees a manager hires himself are sometimes treated differently than employees a manager inherits from a previous manager.  No matter how hard the “step-employees” may try, it can be challenging for them to be looked upon with favor.

A leader knows that everyone brings something to the table. It doesn’t matter if employees were handpicked or not, it is up to the manager to discover how each person can contribute to the team’s success.  The leader creates the environment in which everyone feels they are a welcome part of the team.

Cinderella works very hard.  She tries to do everything that needs to be done as well as everything her step-mother and step-sisters demand of her.  She never complains.  She never utters a cross word. What is her reward?  Poor treatment from all, insults and envy, more and more demands.  The step-sisters’ tirades get all of the mother’s attention.

A leader recognizes when the 80:20 rule is pulling her away from her most productive employees and forcing her to spend an unbalanced amount of time with the less productive, higher maintenance employees.  A leader knows that continually assigning more and more tasks to your best employees without offering any appreciation or acknowledgement is not the way to build morale.

The King and Queen decide to hold a costume ball to find a wife for their son.  However, the Prince is not really interested.  He geos through the motions to keep his mother happy.  Sometimes, we can see the same thing from team members.  We may assign them a special project, thinking we are doing them a favor, challenging them, helping them grow into a brighter future.  However, like the King and Queen, we sometimes think we know what is best for our employees.

A leader engages in career planning conversations with his team members. A leader wants to know where their interests lie and how he can help support their growth.  A leader wouldn’t want an unengaged “yes-man” on his team.

The fairy godmother is very much in tune with Cinderella’s hopes and dreams.  She asks Cinderella to define her goal and develop a plan to achieve it.  Turn a pumpkin into a coach?  Mice into coachmen?  It won’t be easy, but sometimes we can make the impossible possible, she says.

A leader listens carefully, asks good questions, and encourages individuals through their challenges. A leader tries to be realistic, but positive.  A leader coaches her team members towards their goal.  A leader tries to set the stage for success. A leader knows that “impossible things are happening every day.”

As the story goes, Cinderella loses her slipper as she runs out of the ball at the stroke of midnight.  That is the only clue the Prince has to find his new love.  He knows that the woman on whose foot the slipper fits perfectly is the beautiful princess from the ball.  Woman after woman tries to say that the slipper is hers.

Over and over, each woman tries to tell the prince’s steward that she was the perfect woman for the prince.  We see this in the workplace, as well.  Sometimes, the people who contributed the least to a project are the ones trying to take all the credit.  Sometimes, people try to impress the boss without a strong performance to demonstrate their abilities.

A leader can see through the attention-getting tactics of some. A leader makes sure that she not only knows who really contributed to a successful event, project or other outcome, but is sure to acknowledge the right people, too.

While everyone in the workplace may not live happily ever after, leadership can make the difference in everyone’s job satisfaction.  Do you see yourself in any of the Cinderella characters?  In what way?  Or, have you encountered these characters in your workplace?  How did the story turn out?

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Eleanor Biddulph
Eleanor Biddulph
 is the EVP of Client Services at Progressive Medical, Inc.
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One response to “Leadership Lessons from Cinderella

  1. Very insightful…I think another “fairy tale” with leadership lessons is the T.V. show Lost. Without giving away too much of the plot, you see different leadership styles, group conflict, resolution, etc. The island is a perfect lab for leadership and group dynamics.

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