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Can Barbie Be a Model for Great Leadership?

Updated: Jul 24, 2023

Effective Change Leaders

When we look at our role models and their various styles of effective leadership, we might think of Warren Buffett, Nelson Mandela, Richard Branson, Jacinda Ardern, or dozens of others. They all led change and have been successful leaders in different ways. But all are/ were bold in their efforts. What can you do to be a better leader? Usually it involves getting people to buy into our goals – often with clarity of purpose and shared benefits. Sometimes it’s just surprising tactics.

The Impact of the Unexpected

Despite Mattel’s Barbie being old enough to qualify for Medicare next March, the doll, who is consistently robed in pink, is getting tons of media hype with the new movie coming out today 21 July 2023. Gretchen Whitmer, the Governor of Michigan, also likes hot pink. As did her mom, a previous Attorney General of the state. When male colleagues chastised her for wearing pink to court, she said it was her “power color.” Now, the Governor’s staff are adding to the fuchsia fascination.

Creating a Social Media Sensation

They have created a media sensation with a Barbie version of Gretchen Whitmer. She signs an education bill - despite her non-opposable thumb. She can accomplish anything – even with abnormal feet and plastic hands! She drives her pink corvette (made in Michigan) past the bright pink construction cones to make sure her people “fix the damn roads.” Two of Whitmer’s favorite projects. Their icon is nicknamed “Lil’ Gretch” – a take-off on Gmac Cash’s rap song on how Gretchen Whitmer was managing the Covid-19 pandemic, (“We ain’t even about to stress, we still got Big Gretch”).

Real Leaders Think Broadly

Why would a serious leader do this ridiculous kind of promotion? THINK – what does social media pay attention to? Not to the details of what the education bill does, (additional school aid for K-12 to help kids who got behind due to covid – I even had to dig to find out that much!). We, as leaders, need to plan effectively and manage the details, but what does social media do? They pay attention to loud things! To color! To trends! To humor!

The Creative Side of Leadership

Politics aside, it doesn’t matter if you do or don’t like Whitmer’s stand on issues. Let’s notice the important lessons here. Ask yourself, “As a leader, can I be this creative? Am I willing to make a little fun of myself to get the best attention on my goals? How can I position myself to get my organization, department, or project moving in the right direction?”

What Leaders Can Do to Gain Buy-in

I’m not suggesting you make yourself into a Barbie or Thor - unless you have those kinds of muscles and a hammer with built-in lightning. Make sure your objective is clear. Then think of a symbol or phrase you can build on – something that people across a wide spectrum (or your specific target group) can relate to. What about your leadership qualities, abilities, or goals might engage that common appreciation? What attributes do you bring to the initiative. Sincerity is good; commitment is great. What does your target group admire or need?

Take a Little Risk - Be Bold

Lean into your strengths. You can be serious about an issue without taking yourself too seriously. Step out a little. People like us more when we make fun of ourselves. Try something that will make people laugh – we can all use more of that.

Disclaimer: I Never Had a Barbie

In the earlier Barbie days, I was too busy catching fireflies in jars to light up my bedroom at night - at least until my mother discovered that overnight 100 had managed to get out of the holes I had carefully poked in the top so they could breathe comfortably. Or trying to construct a tree house with a father who wasn't mechanically inclined. Or attempting to build a raft on a pond with a nearby neighbor 3 miles away. Yep, I lived in the middle of nowhere and my parents did not encourage television.

While I DO think THIS use of Barbie is great, I'm grateful that Barbie and her pals have evolved over the decades from the 1959 Swimsuit version to the amazing Jane Goodall representation. (Though I do wonder how Barbie went from being a Hippie to getting through med school in just 2 years😉.) And changed dramatically in a different way in 2015: Barbie's body came in a variety of sizes. And as we all know, the one thing that leaders can depend upon for success is knowing that "Change is inevitable. Change for the better is a full-time job." Now, let's help Barbie save the planet - in your own way!

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