Leadership Lessons from Ferris Bueller

Introduction: This week’s guest blogger is Greg Lee, Senior Membership & Marketing Director at the Chapel Hill – Carrboro YMCA (aka “The Y”). Greg is a strong local advocate and leader who is making a big difference in our community. He’s worked at world class organizations like Disney and Sea World, spending the last seven years at the Y. Greg has a healthy love of running…and an equally healthy (?) love of good beer. Most importantly, he’s one cool dude who has a unique perspective on our world…usually expressed through some 1980s metaphor – enjoy!!


As anyone who has met me knows, I’m a true child of the 80s. If you’re looking for some 80s nostalgia, look no further than my Facebook page. To me everything (well, almost everything) was better in the 80s. There’s nothing I’d rather do than hang out in my tight rolled jeans and Reebok high top pumps and listen to Grayson Hughes or watch Marty McFly travel through time to save Doc and his parents’ marriage.

I’m a member of the Church of John Hughes. I believe Hughes understood and spoke to my generation through his movies in a way that no one had before or has since. Don’t ask me to choose a favorite – I can’t. But near the top of my list is Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

When I was asked to submit a blog post here, I thought of Ferris not just because the movie is TOTALLY AWESOME, but also because, as I considered great 80s characters, I found myself thinking “I wonder what happened to Ferris? Clearly he was successful, the guy’s a born leader.”  And so, I give you:


WARNING: Clips used for illustration in this post may (do) contain adult language. They’re the words of the characters in the movie and do not necessarily reflect my use of these words.

Be Bold.
There are going to be rules. And there will always be people who expect you to do it the way it’s always been done. Don’t be afraid to break the rules. And when you do, go all in. The risk is high, but so are the rewards. Now I’m not advocating breaking any laws, but one of Ferris’s most endearing qualities is his willingness to be bold, and the complete confidence in which he does it. Doing things differently not only yields results, but it emboldens your team to take calculated risks and shows your community that you’re really dedicated to your mission.

Have Fun – Twist and Shout

As a leader, if you’re not having fun doing what you’re doing, you better believe your team won’t have fun.  That image of the stoic leader alone in the corner office making all of the key decisions is old-fashioned.  Your team and your community need to know you’re a real person. Show them a little of you; let them see you’re having fun, and you become more authentic. Authenticity leads to deeper relationships, and that’s what you’re after anyway right?

Push People
Push people. Push them not only to be their best, but to be true to themselves. We often equate successful leaders to encouraging us to reach our measured goals, but true leaders go beyond challenging us in relation to performance. Their example encourages us to break through our own barriers. There’s no doubt in my mind that Cameron’s decision to confront his greatest fear in this scene comes from lessons he learns from Ferris.

Create Disciples – Be a Righteous Dude

Your community really is just like a really big high school. Not everyone is the same. Just like Grace points out so eloquently in this clip, there are all kinds of people in your community. Ferris manages to reach everyone in his or her own place, connecting with them and creating “1,500 Ferris Bueller Disciples running around these halls.” How are you connecting with every corner of your community and creating disciples for your organization? Are you reaching out to everyone in a homogenous way, or are you meeting people in their unique space?

Allow yourself the occasional freak-out

We’re all human. As much as we all want to be Ferris all the time, sometimes the best we can do is Cameron. The best leaders I’ve ever worked with seemed to have it all together all the time, but I’ve got to believe that sometimes, when no one was watching, their cracks were exposed too.

All in all, I’d say Ferris probably ended up a pretty strong leader. But he isn’t the only one. Now that I think about it, The Breakfast Club would make a pretty good Board of Directors……

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