Recently, I was channel surfing and I stumbled upon the movie, Forrest Gump. Forrest Gump is one of those films that if it is on television, I’m compelled to watch it. And each time I see it, I am awed by the way this seemingly benign and unintelligent character, expertly played by Tom Hanks, had such a profound effect on the people in his life without even realizing it.
Forrest inspired those in his circle to reach their potential and he changed their lives for the better. And, he seemed to luck into situations that led him to great success. But in reality, it was his core personality traits that were responsible for his accomplishments and these qualities contributed to the positive influence he had on others. As Forrest demonstrates, to inspire those around you and to be a great manager, you don’t need to be the smartest, the most innovative or the most popular, but you do need to possess several of the key traits that he displayed daily. Let’s explore the attributes that made Forrest Gump who he was and why every manager needs to have them.
Trait #1 – Integrity
According to C. S. Lewis, “Integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is watching.” Forrest demonstrated strong integrity throughout the movie, and a great example of this is when he gave Bubba’s profits from the shrimp business to Bubba’s family. No one knew of the pact he made with Bubba and no one expected Forrest to give the money away, but he shared the profits because it was the right thing to do.
As a manager, if you want to garner your employees’ respect, you must lead with integrity. You must strive to never compromise your beliefs, even when it would be profitable or easier to do so. In addition, you must be willing to admit your shortcomings. And, it is crucial that you deliver on your promises. Lead with integrity and your employees will emulate you, creating an ethical and cohesive team.
Trait #2 – Loyalty
Forrest was very loyal to the people in his life, even when they did not fully appreciate him. When Forrest boarded the school bus for the first time, all of the kids on the bus shunned him, except one. The words, “You can sit here if ya want,” was all he needed to hear to form a lifelong bond with Jenny Curran, his best friend and love interest. There wasn’t anything that Forrest wouldn’t do for the troubled Jenny. Even when she rejected him and ran away, he was still there for her when she needed him. Furthermore, he never judged her for the poor decisions she made. And though she didn’t always show it, Jenny had a deep respect for Forrest, adamantly defending him when others tried to hurt him.
Loyalty is a two-way street. If you are loyal to your employees, they will be loyal to you. To instill loyalty in your team members, show them that you value them and that you will reward them for doing their job well. Give them perks, such as an extra vacation day when they put in long hours or buy them lunch on a Friday when a tight deadline is met. Help them get promoted to a new position within the organization, even if keeping them in the same position makes your job easier. And, say “thank you” often. The reward for appreciating your staff will be a lasting loyalty from them that directly translates to lower turnover, more productivity and a happier office.
Trait #3 – Perseverance
There are many great examples of Forrest’s ability to persevere, even when it seemed more logical to quit. Once Forrest had his mind set, he doggedly pursued his course until he reached his objective. When Bubba was left behind during the attack in Vietnam, Forrest kept going towards enemy fire to find him, resulting in Forrest saving the lives of several men, including Lieutenant Dan. And he found Bubba, giving him the opportunity to say goodbye. Also, when the shrimping business seemed like a complete failure, Forrest stayed the course and eventually was rewarded with a profitable venture. His business success did involve luck with the arrival of the hurricane, but if he gave up when most people would have, Forrest would not have been in a position to benefit from the disaster.
Being a manager that perseveres will inspire and motivate your staff to do the same. For a project, it is important that once you decide on a plan of action, you follow through until it is complete, regardless of the obstacles that get in your way. Constantly changing plans or giving your staff mixed signals will result in confusion and low quality work. Also, showing that you support a project 100% will generate the same enthusiasm from your team, resulting in everyone being fully committed and working in unison to achieve your common goal.
Trait #4 – Honesty
There aren’t many people as honest as Forrest Gump. Deception was not in his DNA. An example of his strong standards was when he came close to refusing a $25,000 endorsement deal, because he didn’t like lying about the kind of ping-pong paddle he used. If his mama didn’t explain to him that it was just a little “white lie” that didn’t harm anyone, he would have passed on the contract.
How important is honesty within an organization? According to a 2010 study by the Corporate Executive Board, companies that encouraged honest feedback among its staff were consistently more profitable than companies that did not. A culture of honesty starts with the executives and managers and goes beyond never lying to your staff. Have an open door policy and encourage your employees to give you feedback about their positions, their responsibilities and the company. Insight from them will help you to be a better manager and will allow you to make positive changes. And, don’t sugar coat issues with your team. If you are having performance, attitude or attendance problems, it is pertinent that your employees know that improvement is expected or productivity will continue to suffer. Honesty really is the best policy.
Trait #5 – Humility
Humility is one of Forrest’s most compelling traits. It is his humility that inspires others to follow him. Forrest accomplished a lot for a “simple man, leading a simple life.” He met three Presidents, was an All-American football player, was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, was featured on magazine covers, and was the founder of a thriving business, yet he acted as if these achievements were everyday occurrences. He never bragged about his accomplishments, but stated them very matter-of-factly. Along with his ability to stay grounded, he didn’t put others on a pedestal based upon their status. When he looked at a person, he saw them for who they were on the inside, not for what they presented on the outside, treating the President no different than a woman sitting next to him at the bus stop.
Many confuse being humble with weakness, but in reality, humility is a characteristic that only the strongest people possess. The bosses that brag about their achievements, who take credit for other people’s work, and who need their employees to stroke their egos have a void in their lives that need to be filled. In contrast, humble bosses have an inner strength and they recognize the worth of the people around them, showing gratitude for their contributions. A manager without humility expects respect because of their title, but a manager with humility strives to earn respect by treating their staff members fairly. Which manager would you want as your boss?
In closing, if you attempt each day to emulate Forrest Gump, you will leave a lasting, positive impact on those around you. Your team will respect you and will enjoy following you, making the workplace a much better environment.
Are there any other Forrest Gump characteristics that a manager should possess?
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