Five Leadership Lessons from a Righteous Dude

“Ferris Beuller’s Day Off” is one of my all time favorites and when I happen to catch a rerun it never fails to make me smile. Even though it’s now 32 years old and practically a classic, there’s still something special about this character.

Ferris inspires me to loosen up, think big and not take myself or my work so seriously. Something we all would do well to remember from time to time.


Ferris: “Hey, Cameron. You realize if we played by the rules right now we’d be in gym?”

Lesson 1 – Break the rules.

I’m not talking about ethics and integrity, I’m talking about bureaucracy, the routine, even the process. One of the first questions you might ask before trying to improve a process or modify a policy is “why does it exist in the first place?”.

One way to find out if you should be doing what you are doing is to stop doing it and see if anyone notices. Teach people that procedures aren’t an end unto themselves, while they are important they are meant to serve a bigger purpose and if they aren’t working we need to find a better way.

Ferris: “The question isn’t what are we going to do, the question is what aren’t we going to do?”

Lesson  2 –  Say yes to no.

“No” is a misunderstood and lonely word but it’s really just the other side of yes. Saying no to something frees you to say yes to something else. It might be saying yes to a higher priority or simply to your self-esteem.

Demands of work and life can crowd you into a corner and keep you in a state of stress and frustration. Companies can chase so many shiny objects they don’t catch any of them. Saying yes to everything is just another form of denial, distraction, and procrastination. Think less is more.

Ferris: “Look, it’s real simple. Whatever mileage we put on, we’ll take off.”

Lesson 3 – Keep it simple.

Sometimes we like to make things too complicated. We want to solve for all the possible outcomes and make sure we’ve worked through all the risks. Fear drives us to overanalyze and overengineer. Yes, I know, the devil is in the details and, I would argue, in too much detail.

I’m not advocating carelessness or stealing your dad’s Ferrari, but I do believe that sometimes we should just go for it. We may not know exactly how it will turn out, or how we’ll explain it to the boss if our plan doesn’t work, but inspiring leadership means breaking out a little audacity from time to time.  

Ferris: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

Lesson 4 – Pay attention.

This is one area I am constantly working on. In the rush to get things done I can miss what is really important. The best way to find out is to stop and look around. Go see what’s happening in your organization. Talk to people.

Go looking for bad news to keep yourself grounded and tuned in to the challenges that need attention.

Go looking for good news to catch people doing something right and celebrate.

The key word here is “stop”. Stop transacting, stop fixing, stop firefighting, stop distracting, stop solving, stop talking and pay attention.

Ferris: “A person should not believe in an -ism, he should believe in himself.”

Lesson 5 – Be yourself.

Only you can be you. While there are infinite books, seminars, and consultants all offering helpful information on how to navigate the leadership journey, it is up to you to synthesize those ideas into your own leadership philosophy. The one that is right for you.

I suggest taking the time to have an offsite of one. Go somewhere, disconnect from the matrix and bring some books, a pad, and pen. Write down all the ideas about leadership that resonate with you and then see if you can summarize them into a leadership philosophy that connects with your head and heart.

Make that philosophy your compass and use it to guide your priorities and actions. Be the leader you were meant to be, not the leader someone else thinks you should be.

Thanks, Ferris.

Start a Conversation

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.