Leadership in the Movies – Elf Part 1

buddy the elf and self awareness

Think back to Christmas 2003 when our world was turned upside down thanks to Buddy the Elf, aka Will Ferrell in Elf, directed by Jon Favreau. Nine minutes into the movie, we see that Buddy’s gifting is most certainly not well-suited for the work of his elf counterparts working in Santa’s workshop. For instance, we learn that the elves working in Santa’s workshop have nimble hands and active minds.

Buddy is distraught at his performance.

In this scene, Buddy learns that he is 915 Etch A Sketch off-pace, at a mere 85!

And, then distraughtly, Buddy claims, “I’m the worst toymaker in the world!”

“You just have different talents,” his apparent supervisor replies.

“Everyone has the same talents but me,” says Buddy.

A couple of his coworkers join in the conversation and name a couple of his strengths – “changing the batteries in the smoke detectors” and “being the only baritone in the choir – to ‘bring them down a whole octave!'”

What were some of the impacts of Buddy’s poor performance in the workshop?

Other elves were gossiping about his lack of self-awareness – “If he hasn’t figured out he’s a human now, he never will!”

Buddy moved to a different department within Santa’s Workshop, the quality control department. Even in the new role, Buddy’s strengths didn’t fit the needs of the work context! And, the new job as QC checker for the Jack-in-the-Box toys caused anxiety and terrified Buddy.

What did the elves in Santa’s Workshop do right?

The Supervisor Elf responded to Buddy with empathy and compassion when discussing his job performance.

Buddy’s coworkers were quick to name his strengths and show appreciation for the unique value that Buddy brought their context.

Have you ever felt like Buddy?

Have you ever felt like Buddy? Have you ever felt like everyone (but you) was gifted? Like you were an imposter? I think we’d all agree that Buddy’s strengths were not the strengths needed within Santa’s workshop. There was an apparent misfit between his strengths and the work context. 

But how often do we stay in work contexts that don’t fit the strengths we have as individuals? How often are we like Buddy working in Santa’s workshop? Likely, everyone around us (similar to the elves in this scene) observes the misfit. Yet we, as individuals, often…

  • Neglect to spend time in self-reflection, 
  • Forget to use mindfulness practices, or even 
  • Fail to have a basic level of self-awareness to see the misfit.

Stop, pause, and reflect.

Unlike this illustration of Buddy and Santa’s Workshop, sometimes we start in a context that is a fit – a context that we are using our strengths. Over time, our context evolves; and, we even evolve. Yet, we fail to stop, pause, and reflect. 

  • Is this context still a good fit for my strengths? 
  • Is this context still a good fit for my purpose? 
  • Is this context still a good fit with how I want to show up for the world?

Set aside time next week to watch Elf (and maybe even reflect on yourself!)

Set aside a time for laughs, holiday cheer by watching Elf (currently streaming on Hulu & Amazon Prime). But, I challenge you to set aside some time to stop, pause, and reflect on your current context. Is your current context still a good fit for your strengths, purpose, and desires?

PS: If you have a Netflix subscription, make sure to check the 2020 series, The Holiday Movies That Made Us. Episode 1 features Elf and “unwrap[s] the real stories behind these iconic Christmas blockbusters, thanks to insider interviews and behind-the-scenes peeks.

What about your organization?