The soundtrack from movie, The Greatest Showman, is a current favorite on my Spotify playlist. I find myself humming the melodies and thinking about the movie that has captured audiences’ hearts in the last couple of months. There have even been times I’ve wanted to dance in my office or swing on a trapeze when listening to the music—neither of which are in my wheelhouse of expertise and would be humorous at best.
I have many friends who look for the redemption story in movies. They find gospel messages and sermon illustrations I seldom see. And while I believe every great story is a redemption story, The Greatest Showman has caused me to contemplate some life-long leadership lessons. The movie is definitely not a perfect picture of P.T. Barnum’s real biography, but through the lyrics of the music, I continue to find leadership takeaways, both good and bad.
1. Leaders have vision and paint a Technicolor picture of where they are headed. The song “A Million Dreams” is planted early in the life of P.T. Barnum, and the song is an articulate vision of the life-long dream he builds together with his wife. The lyrics, “However big, however small, let me be part of it all” speaks to his ability to share a vision others want to join. Good leaders articulate the dream—where they want to lead others. They paint pictures of a preferred future, and they ask others to join them.
2. Leaders include a variety of people and see strengths in others they might not see in themselves. The song “Come Alive” is Barnum’s anthem to those he enlists to be in the show. He looks beyond the oddities and embraces the uniqueness of the individual. As leaders, we must enlist others to join us in the work God has set before us. We must seek others who do not possess the same strengths as us, and look for the unusual gifts and talents they bring to make the vision a reality. We need to help them “Dream with their eyes wide open.”
3. Leaders take risks and move forward with courage and optimism. The song, “The Other Side” features Hugh Jackman convincing Zac Efron to run away from the conventional and sings, “So trade that typical, for something colorful. And if it’s crazy, live a little crazy.” I’m not advocating leaders should lead recklessly, but leadership requires courage to take risks that move them forward in their vision.
4. Worldly success and ambition can pull a leader away from those they love most. As Barnum experiences financial success and admiration from the rich and famous, he also drifts away from his family and the people who stood beside him in his dream. The anthem “This Is Us” is a cry from the people in the show who have been pushed aside and forced to live in secluded community behind walls. Leaders should be loyal and stand by those who’ve helped them achieve their dreams. As Michelle Williams, who portrays Barnum’s wife, sings in the song “Tightrope,” “But I follow you to the great unknown…walking a tightrope with you.” Ministry success should never supplant success at home. It’s a terrible god and an unfaithful mistress. It’s a tightrope of balance that if not carefully walked can lead to a great fall.
5. Leaders have a proper perspective of criticism. Barnum’s desire to be liked by the newspaper critic is a reminder the world’s applause is like the song “Never Enough” that says, “All the shine of a thousand spotlights, all the stars we steal from the night sky will never be enough.” As leaders, how often do we seek first the approval of men and not the approval of God? May we heed the words of Paul in Galatians 1:10, “For am I now trying to persuade people, or God? Or am I striving to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
If you’re the ringleader for your ministry, take time to reflect on your personal leadership and what you can learn from The Greatest Showman. May you have vision and courage to dream with your eyes wide open and your steps following in obedience where God directs.
Kelly King is the Women’s Ministry Specialist for LifeWay Christian Resources and oversees the YOU Lead events. Join her this year and get to know her heart for ministry leaders. Follow her on Twitter @kellydking.