The holidays just wouldn't be the same without watching It's a Wonderful Life, feeling every moment of struggle as George Bailey (James Stewart) discovers that the best riches in life aren't measured in dollars and cents. You might never get the "do-over" George did or have a drink with your guardian angel at a bar, but you absolutely can put some of the many gems of business wisdom found in this beloved, classic film to work for you.
1. Your competitors can--and probably will--be ruthless.
In Frank Capra's film, George's rival, Henry Potter (Lionel Barrymore) is an ambitious banker who stands as the primary alternative to the Bailey Building and Loan. He has both money and power, but he recognizes that the Bailey Building and Loan is a threat to his security. When offering George a job doesn't eliminate the "thorn in [his] side", Mr. Potter resorts to thievery, deliberately holding onto the $8,000 that George's Uncle Billy (Thomas Mitchell) had meant to deposit from the Building and Loan into the bank.
Modern businesses are more competitive than ever given the global market, and unfortunately, you can't assume that other companies will do right by you and play fair. Industrial espionage is a real thing that some of the world's largest corporations are fighting. Take security and policy precautions to protect not only your physical assets and accounts, but also your concepts.
2. Business isn't without emotional and ethical investment.
When George's father dies of a stroke, Mr. Potter wants to do away with the Building and Loan and take over its business. The Building and Loan board agrees not to vote Mr. Potter's way, but only if George stays on as the Building and Loan's director. George thus has an incredible dilemma--he can give up his personal dreams of travel and engineering and continue the good, honest work his father did, or he can leave Bedford Falls and let the residents of the town suffer from Mr. Potter's greed.
As you try to build your business, you will be barraged with choices. You'll need to think about whether what you want and what the company needs align, as well as whether what you're doing is socially, environmentally and financially beneficial to communities. To deal with the weight that comes from this, surround yourself with as many supportive individuals as you can, including one or more mentors. Become a good researcher, as well, so that when your emotions are running high, you better understand the potential implications of your decisions and have facts to keep you balanced. Understand that you probably can't simply get your work out of your heart when you clock out at the end of the day, and give yourself breaks and vacations so you don't burn out.
3. Your employees are going to make mistakes--and you might have to be the one to put out the fire.
Although Uncle Billy is incredibly devoted to George and has faith in him, he's not the most attentive, and his memory leaves a lot to be desired. These issues lead Uncle Billy to accidentally hand Mr. Potter the newspaper in which he's wrapped the $8,000 he was supposed to deposit from the Building and Loan. Uncle Billy feels awful, but ultimately, it's George, as the director, who becomes desperate, ends up with a warrant out for his arrest, has to beg Mr. Potter for help and debates ending his life for the insurance benefits.
Each of your employees will bring strengths to the table, but all of them are human. And in today's business environment, you'll inevitably be held responsible not just for your own actions, but for theirs, too. Before you apologize or let anybody go, think about the broader implications of your decision and whether you truly did contribute to the problem. Wherever you can, learn from the errors of others.
4. Integrity and loyalty are linked.
With George in trouble over the missing $8,000, his wife, Mary (Donna Reed), tells his friends in the community what's happening. They congregate at the Bailey house, and because George has a history of conducting himself with integrity, they rally behind him as loyal friends. They donate more than enough to cover the $8,000, and George's ordeal is over.
Conducting your business with integrity is foundational to building a level of trust that is essential to building your brand. The more openness, honesty and appropriate assistance you offer to your customers, the more likely they are to become loyal to you and stick with you when times get tough.
It's a Wonderful Life is a classic because it highlights the deep value of friendship and individual influence. But it is framed around a very contemporary big-versus-little business conflict. It's the ideal film to watch not only when you need a personal pick-me-up, but also when you need hope that your company beats the odds.