I received such an enthusiastic response from my Leadership Lessons From Looney Tunes blog that I decided to take it one step further. Sometimes, even a cartoon meant for pure entertainment, can actually teach us a thing or two about the qualities of a Transformational Leader. And there’s no better character to start with than Bugs Bunny, the ultimate animated example of how to Transform your Circumstances. After all, what could be worse than being Bugs Bunny during rabbit season? We all feel pressure, we all get stressed, and some days you may feel like everyone’s out to get you, but here are some lessons from Bugs that may just help change your perspective and give you the ability to do some transformation of your own:
1. Remain Calm
Between Elmer Fudd and his gun, Daffy Duck and his constant attempt to subvert him with elaborate schemes, and Yosemite Sam’s quest for power and wealth, Bugs has found himself backed into more than a few corners. But what’s the consistent theme through each one of those scenarios? Bugs Bunny remains calm every time he is at the other end of the gun. Even when the trigger is ready to be pulled, Bugs is able to make Daffy convince Elmer it’s duck season. Before he even has a chance to process what he’s done, Daffy’s beak is spinning around his head. In the world of leadership and martial arts alike, the ability to remain calm is driven by confidence: confidence in your ability to persevere. Even if things don’t turn out exactly how you expected, you’ll figure out a way. Confidence does not mean you will always do it exactly right, it means you will trust your training, your instincts, even when things go completely wrong.
2. Ask Questions
“Ehh, What’s up Doc?” - Synonymous with Bugs is the image of him casually chewing a carrot even with Elmer’s gun in his face. When seeing the situation at a quick glance, Bugs Bunny would be the main dish on Elmer’s plate that evening. But he escaped time and again with this simple tool: he asked a question. And then he paid attention to the answer. He studied each of his foes and knew how to transform the situation to meet his desired outcome because he paid attention. Bugs could tell Yosemite Sam not to “step over a line or else” twenty times before he got him to step off a cliff. He played on Sam’s ego because he paid attention to what Sam was saying. When you’re a leader you pay attention to those around you. Asking questions allows us to focus on the important stuff and find a way forward rather than being distracted by what life throws at us.
3. Adjust your Strategies, Not your Goals
One of my favorite qualities in Bugs Bunny is that he does whatever it takes without knowing exactly what’s going to happen, just that he wants to reach his goal. He will dress up, he will sing, he will dance, and he will act his way out of any situation. He is a definite example of not being “married” to one idea. He adapts his strategies for each moment instead of being obsessed with doing things a certain way. Bugs Bunny never takes his eyes off the goal but his efforts to reach that goal are, sometimes, quite absurd. A leader is not an individual who knows the right answers or how something is going to work out. They just adapt well.
4. Own your Mistakes and Move On
“I knew I shoulda taken that left turn at Albuquerque!” - Bugs pops up out of his hole ready for the beach or Coney Island but finds himself in the South Pole or in a cave instead; he checks his map and utters this famous line. Like the rest of us, Bugs makes mistakes. And how does he respond? He realizes his mistake, wipes the dust off his hands, hops out of his hole, and starts looking for the next adventure. Mistakes don’t define Leaders, the response to them does. Bugs knows this secret: mistakes are really opportunities for adventure. These “course corrections” create the opening for a new outcome. Sometimes, you find gold in the cave only because of that “wrong turn”.
5. Be Nice
“Do you happen to know what the penalty is for shooting a fricasseeing rabbit without a fricasseeing rabbit license?” - Isn’t it nice of Bugs to point that out to Elmer Fudd? He wouldn’t want him to get in trouble for killing him because he didn’t have the correct license. As Yosemite Sam is shooting at Bugs Bunny’s feet, what is Bugs to do but dance? And then he kindly says, “Take it Sam!” Allowing Yosemite Sam to take the spotlight and do a dance number of his own. Not only transforming his circumstances, but doing it by being nice at the same time. Bugs Bunny teaches us to Fight Smarter, Not Harder. And simply put, it is smart business to be nice. And showing respect to even your most challenging opponent will always put you ahead.
So for now, “That’s all folks!”
Scott Alexander is a published author, a coach to entrepreneurs and senior executives, an accomplished speaker, and a strategy/leadership consultant.