The Muppet Leadership Path



I’ve got a dream too. But it’s about singing and dancing and making people happy. That’s the kind of dream that gets better the more people you share it with. And, well, I’ve found a whole bunch of friends who have the same dream. And it kind of makes us like a family.
-Kermit the Frog, The Muppet Movie

Does that seem at all familiar? Maybe not the singing and dancing part (though that’s great: Shabbat Shira, anyone?!) but the part about finding a bunch of friends who share a vision and it makes you a family. Sounds kind of like a congregation, right? Though he didn’t set out to be a leader, Kermit the Frog turns out to be a great leader of Fozzie Bear, Miss Piggy, Gonzo, Dr. Teeth, and the rest of the gang. His secret in going from the swamp to Hollywood and picking up life-long friends along the way is, arguably, that he led by example. Kermit never said, “Hey, gang, this is how you should act.” Instead, he simply told his new friends his dream; they saw how passionate Kermit was and joined him. Kermit was a Stephen Covey-style leader.

What can we learn about leadership from Jim Henson and the Muppets? Let’s take a look.

“Listening is the first step and the last step.” -Cantus Fraggle, Fraggle Rock

Easy enough, right? But often times, in both our personal and professional lives, we tend to not listen to what is being said but rather wait patiently until it is our turn to speak. While we are all crunched for time, at your next board meeting you might try listening to someone’s presentation, pausing for reflection and then responding. Or, perhaps in a more populist approach you might proactively reach out to your non-board member fellow congregants. Ask them to participate in focus groups or set up a suggestion box – something that will allow you to listen, carefully, to your community and that will allow them to feel and be heard.

“Jim inspired people to be better than they thought they could be. …And he did it all without raising his voice.” -Bernie Brillstein, Jim Henson’s friend and agent

This comment on Henson isn’t just a reminder to use inside voices. It is more a reminder to treat one another – fellow leaders included – with respect. It is a reminder that you can disagree with someone or even have an argument with that person without making personal attacks and while being civil. In light of the uncivil tone taking over political discourse these days, it is important that leaders – congregational or otherwise – remind themselves that high-minded, thoughtful and respectful debate is entirely worthwhile; screaming and shouting is to be left for youngsters throwing temper tantrums.

“Jim didn’t tell you what to do. He just was. And by him being what he was, he led and he taught.” -Frank Oz, Muppet puppeteer, the man behind Fozzie Bear, Miss Piggy, Animal, Grover, Bert and Cookie Monster, among others

This is where Kermit’s Covey-style leadership comes from. Leadership expert Stephen Covey posits that leaders who are passionate about the matter at hand and can show that passion will gain “followers” with ease. In Jim Henson’s world, it wasn’t just his passion: It was his commitment to The Muppet Show or whatever project the gang was working on. His commitment inspired his fellow artists to work hard and think deeper and let the creativity flow. In the congregational world, such commitment and passionate leadership can inspire not only your fellow leaders but also your fellow congregants. We’ve advised before that if Joe Congregant sees Brenda Board-Member being palpably unenthused with her leadership responsibilities, it can quickly turn off any desire within Joe to reach for a leadership position. On the other hand, if Brenda appears to enjoy the privilege of being a leader in her congregation and creates a welcoming environment for others, Joe just might raise his hand and volunteer to chair the Young Adult Outreach Committee.

“Moving right along / in search of good times / and good news, / with good friends you can’t lose. / This could become a habit. / Opportunity just knocked. / Let’s reach out and grab it. / Together we’ll nab it. / We’ll hitchhike, bus or yellow cab it.” -Kermit and Fozzie, “Moving Right Along” from The Muppet Movie

“Together we’ll nab it.” This lyric pretty much sums up the experience of collaborating on a Muppet production and should sum up the experience of collaborating on a synagogue production. Congregational boards have cogs and wheels and pulleys and levers of all sorts, each with its own important function. But it takes them working together to make the machine run smoothly. Leaders are encouraged to take a moment every now and then and reflect upon their role within the board. badge-leadershipLeading a congregation is a big task, to say the least, but it is not something any one leader should or needs to undertake alone. Your fellow board members and congregants are there to help – together, you’ll nab it!

All quotes and attributions are taken from It’s Not Easy Being Green and Other Things to Consider, by Jim Henson, The Muppets and Friends, and edited by Cheryl Henson, Jim’s daughter and president of the Jim Henson Foundation.Image from Wikimedia Commons.

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Robin Riegelhaupt

About Robin Riegelhaupt

Robin Riegelhaupt is the Assistant Manager of the URJ Knowledge Network. Throughout her tenure at the URJ, she has served as a writer for the Congregational Consulting Group and the information resource specialist for the Department of Synagogue Management. Prior to joining the URJ, Robin was a web editor at the Washington Action Office of the Jewish Federations of North America and a grassroots organizer for the Center for Science in the Public Interest. She holds a Master’s degree in Political Management from George Washington University and a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Theatre from the University of Central Florida. A native New Yorker, Robin lives in Astoria, NY, and writes about the arts.

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