How to Own Your Leadership Potential (With a Little Help From Your Friends)

The TV show The Good Place has a lot to teach us about being an authentic leader, but if you want in-person experiences, help with soul-searching and access to your very own support network, check out our Authentic Leadership Project to put the Shellstrop principles into practice.

By Erin Boeck Motum

It’s wintertime, and my desire to go outside into the cold is pretty minimal. Unsurprisingly, I’ve got a few TV shows that I’m obsessed with these days, but The Good Place is one of my favourites. If you haven’t seen it, let me fill you in on the basics:

Four human beings — Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani, and Jianyu — find themselves waking up in The Good Place (aka heaven) following their deaths. The focus is on our main character, Eleanor Shellstrop, who is greeted by Michael, the architect of their new neighbourhood, and Janet, the source of all information who can provide Good Place residents with pretty much anything they want. But there’s a twist — turns out, Eleanor’s not who Michael thinks she is. You see, to get into The Good Place, you have to have lived an exceptional life. And Eleanor? Well, let’s just say she has a history of being a bit selfish.

Cue the introduction of Chidi, who is Eleanor’s ethics professor “soulmate”, and Eleanor’s neighbours, the name-dropping socialite Tahani and her “soulmate”, the suspiciously silent Jianyu. I don’t want to spoil anything for those of you who haven’t seen it, but the show follows them all as they realize, one by one, that they are not actually meant to be in The Good Place.

Watching Eleanor throughout the show, there were so many times where (despite her initial selfishness in life) you can relate to her journey. Based on the life she’s lived on earth and her behavior when she started out in The Good Place, she isn’t what you’d first think of when you think of a leader. (I mean, how many of us actually confidently see ourselves as leaders though?) She has a history of shirking responsibility, not being very warm or helpful, and not focusing on the bigger picture. But as the show unfolds, so does her character.

Eleanor grows by using her experiences and introspective learning sessions with Chidi and the gang to learn what she’s really capable of, and regardless of what challenges are thrown at her, she is 100% herself throughout. So, what are some of the traits that make her an authentic leader?

She is who she is, even when it’s not what people would expect.

She has a great ability to own up to and learn from

her mistakes, which is essential for any good leader.

She can take criticism on the chin.

She finds innovative solutions and celebrates creative

(if unconventional) ideas from others in the team.

She (mostly) handles fear and uncertainty like a pro,

which helps her make better decisions under pressure.

Time and time again, Eleanor helps their little group navigate challenge after challenge. She helps each member of the group find their strengths and brings out the best in each and every one of them. Together, they do all sorts of meaningful things that stretch boundaries while making a difference. Yes, she doubts herself (who doesn’t?) and she definitely has flaws (again, who doesn’t?), but she knows herself and recognizes and relies on the strength she gets from her friends, who understand her and the challenges she’s facing. And, as it turns out, she’s pretty darn good at being a leader, particularly when she’s got her crew around her.

Sounds amazing, doesn’t it? In this day and age, where imposter syndrome makes us feel like we are the only ones who don’t have it all figured out, it’s refreshing to see an authentic leader who isn’t afraid to admit she needs help and who actively uses all of the resources around her to make the best possible choices.

Having watched her story, you can see that there are some definite lessons to be learned about how to be a leader. If you’re feeling inspired to bring out the best in yourself and be an authentic, true-to-yourself leader, you should definitely check out the show and sign up for our Authentic Leadership Project. For more details about ALP, check out our website or send us an email.