Leadership: Mary Poppins-Style

Mary Poppins may be the most beloved Nanny of all time. This popular book series written by P.L. Travers found huge success among readers. After Walt Disney turned the series into an award-winning movie, starring the magical Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke, it became even more recognized. Why is it that we love Mary so? There are three things Mary does that make her stand out above the rest.

1. Mary always knows what is needed. Like any great leader, Mary Poppins knows what the children need and gives it to them. She rarely gives the children what they want. In the books, there are countless instances of Jane and Michael complaining they want to go to the park or they want sweets; normally, they are complaining about what Mary Poppins has decided to do for the day. “I don’t want to run errands Mary Poppins” a very stubborn Michael says all the time. However, when they run errands with Mary and follow her instructions, they come across the most unusual and interesting experiences. Mary gives the children what they need–life lessons, fun, and education–in the most unique ways. Great leaders know that giving their followers what they need is far more important than giving into what they want all the time.

2. Mary Poppins makes even the most mundane tasks fun. Who wants to tidy up the nursery? Not a fun task. Personally, cleaning is something I hate to do because it is boring, takes a lot of time, and is something that has to be done over and over and over and over again. Like any other typical children, Jane and Michael also hate cleaning. Mary says, “Our first game is called Well Begun is Half-Done [...] Otherwise titled, Let’s Tidy Up the Nursery.” Michael calls her tricky and is already grumbling. But Mary proves that tidying the nursery can be fun “In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun–and SNAP!–the job’s a game!” With the snap of her fingers, the job of cleaning the nursery does in fact become a game. By the end of the task, Jane and Michael both want to tidy the nursery again.

While most leaders cannot simply snap their fingers and magically make a mundane task fun, leaders can follow Mary’s initiative. Finding the “fun” in a task enables followers to get more enjoyment out of their days, making them both happier and more productive. A great example of a company who looks for fun is Zappos. Known for their unique company culture, they go above and beyond for their employees. This gives their employees confidence and loyalty in the organization–something that is passed along to customers.

3. Mary Poppins opens the children’s eyes to new experiences and diversity. The Banks children jump into chalk drawings, have tea parties in mid-air, talk to animals, grow and shrink, travel around the world in seconds, and more. Obviously these experiences are out of reach for leaders today, but providing diversity is not. Introducing followers to unique experiences and opening their eyes to new concepts and ideas can have a huge positive impact on a company. Challenging followers to think outside of the box and to recognize, as well as accept, new and innovative solutions will help a company to stay on the cutting edge.

Tea with Uncle Albert is much more fun in mid-air. This silly exercise taught the children not to judge others and shows that if you let yourself, you can have a lot of fun in the most unusual ways.

These three basic steps: putting followers needs above wants, finding the fun in mundane tasks, and introducing followers to unique and diverse experiences are really important leadership activities. By following these three steps, we can keep in mind how to be better leaders and how to encourage and facilitate growth among followers. Always remember, a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down!

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