I grew up watching Andy Griffith, and I still watch reruns several times a week. The theme song is one of the most nostalgic sounds I have ever experienced. (By the way, the black and white episodes that feature Don Knotts as Barney Fife are really the only ones that I care about.) As a parent, I was very intentional about cultivating an appreciation of the show with my kids, and I’m proud to say they all like it. There are some great leadership lessons embedded in that sitcom, and I reflect on five of them are below.
In episode 14, “The Horse Trader,” Andy learns an important lesson about integrity. The show begins with Andy admonishing Opie about the dishonesty involved in selling “licorice seeds,” and then he proceeds to mislead a newcomer in town about the exploits of a rusty old cannon he and Barney are trying to sell. After Opie confronts him about the hypocrisy, Andy is reminded that integrity is not just for kids; it’s important for adults too. I cannot think of a more important quality for leaders than integrity. Leaders must earn the trust of those they wish to lead. They do this by following through with the things they say and by always being true to their word. They practice what they preach.
In episode 46, “The Keeper of the Flame,” Andy believes Opie was responsible for burning down Jubel Foster’s barn. Opie insists he didn’t do it, but he doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt from his Pa. When Andy realizes the barn burned because of an illegal moonshine still, he goes back to Opie to apologize. It’s important for leaders to trust their people and assume their best intentions. When a leader realizes they are in the wrong, it’s important that they be willing to swallow their pride, and in some cases, apologize to those they have wronged. Good leaders are always committed to repairing the “relationship damage.”
In episode 70, “Lawman Barney,” Andy realizes that Barney has been intimidated by two farmers who are illegally selling their vegetable on the side of the road. Ultimately, Andy is able to inspire and empower Barney to exercise his appropriate authority and get the cooperation of the farmers. That is what great leaders do; they inspire and empower their followers. They give others a sense of purpose. They are committed to helping others find strength and courage that they didn’t know they had.
In episode 126, “Back to Nature,” Andy, Barney, Gomer, and Opie and his friends are out in the woods on a camping trip. When Barney and Gomer set out to look for Opie, they get themselves lost. Andy not only finds them, but he is clever about getting them back to the campsite in a way that allows Barney to save face. Good leaders are always looking out for their employees. They demonstrate empathy and recognize the importance of staff morale. They are always mindful of ways to throw a positive spotlight on someone else.
I don’t actually remember seeing episode, 215, “Opie’s Piano Lesson,” but to my knowledge, it is the first and only episode where an African-American has a credited role. Rockne Tarkington has a small role as Opie’s football coach. I can’t imagine what it’s like to watch a television show about a town, when no one in the entire place looks like me. When my kids watch that show, I suspect they notice the silly hijinks of Barney and the loving relationship between Andy and Opie. I don’t think they pay attention to the color of anyone’s skin. They take that for granted. I’m not sure what African-American children think when they watch that show, but it wouldn't surprise me if at some point they don’t think, “I wonder if I would have been welcome in Mayberry.” As leaders, we must be sensitive to the life experiences of all those under our care. With respect to race, we need to do our best to ensure that all our students have access to role models who “look like them.” We want all of our students to feel included and to feel valued.
If we are paying attention, our entertainment has the power to do more than just entertain. It can teach us; it can inspire us; and at times, it can even convict us. I can find inspiration just about anywhere. (I can certainly find it in re-runs of the Andy Griffith Show.) Where have you found YOUR inspiration?