Thoughts + Articles

George Bailey’s Leadership Lessons

What leadership traits does George Bailey exhibit in the classic film “It’s a Wonderful Life”? On the opposite side of the spectrum what kind of a leader is Henry Potter, “The richest man in town”?

The film begins by introducing us to the leader George will become. George at the age of 12 saves the life of his younger brother Harry when Harry falls “through the ice”. George becomes ill on that day and permanently loses his “hearing in one ear”. George has a part time job working for a pharmacist. While making up a prescription, the pharmacist reads a telegram informing him that his son has suddenly died. He is heart broken; not thinking clearly and accidentally uses poison in the prescription. George, 12 years old, reads the telegram and sees the poison open on the pharmacist’s table and realized the pharmacist has used poison in the prescription and tells him.

George at this young age shows respect, character, honor, integrity, dependability, and accountability. Everything we would want in our children, family members, and in our employees.

After high school graduation, George works at the Bailey Building & Loan and waits for his younger brother Harry to graduate high school so Harry can replace George at the Company. George plans to travel and go to college. He has saved his money. When George’s father suddenly dies right after Harry’s high school graduation party, George gives up his dream of traveling and works with the board of directors at his father’s Building & Loan Company. Potter wants to close the Company so he can have the townspeople rent his slum housing. George explains that his father’s Building & Loan Company gives the townspeople the opportunity to own their own homes and take pride in them unlike what Potter is offering in his slum housing.

The board of directors said they would close the Company and let Potter take over the town if George does not continue to run the Company. The board of directors likes and trusts George.

George sacrifices his dream of going to college to keep the Company open to continue helping the townspeople. He gives his college money to his brother, Harry. Harry promises to come and take over when he graduates college.

While Harry is at college, George is building up the Company by building beautiful affordable homes with reasonably priced mortgages for the people of Bedford Falls. George cares about the people in his town and as a leader, listens to them, respects them, and inspires and motivates them.

Henry Potter, our scrooge character, is jealous of George’s success. The townspeople have moved out of Potter’s overpriced slum housing. At one point Potter wants George to work for him.

George is a true leader and an honorable man. Harry comes home after graduating college with a new wife. His new father-in-law has offered him a job. George gives up his dream once again for his brother’s happiness.

George marries Mary and right after the wedding, Potter’s Bank calls for a loan payoff at Bailey Building & Loan Company. Potter wants to shut them down. There is a run on deposits at Bailey Building & Loan Company.

George and Mary are getting into a taxi to catch a train for their honeymoon with the $2,000 George has saved for them. He sees the doors closed at his Company and the people lined up. He goes into his Company to see what is happening and receives a call from Potter. Potter says he will give anyone that comes to him, 50 cents on a dollar, and that George has to keep his Company open till 6pm or Potter will shut down the Company.

George explains to the townspeople, who want to take all their money out of the Bailey Building & Loan Company, that the money is in each their homes .They all signed an agreement to get their money back in 60 days.

Mary, George’s new wife of just minutes, is a wonderful young woman with the same leadership qualities that George has. She has strong family values, is honest, trustworthy, accountable, and reliable. She listens and loves and cares about George and the townspeople. Mary hands George the $2,000, he saved for their honeymoon. George pays out some of the money to the townspeople to keep the Company open till 6pm. They close the doors at 6pm with $2 left. Potter has taken from George and Mary their honeymoon trip.

Mary fixes up an old leaky house with the help of friends so she and George will have a honeymoon. On the walls she puts pictures of the cities they would have visited.

Potter is a relentless man with no honor and no character. He cares only about himself and not about the townspeople. Potter puts people down at every turn.

Zig Ziglar says, “Strong people don’t put other people down… they lift them up.”

George Bailey shows leadership throughout his life by lifting others up to make their dreams come true. He helps his brother Harry, Uncle Billy, the pharmacist, Violet, and many of the towns people of Bedford Falls, New York to have happier lives because of the love and care he gives them.

During World War II George is doing his part for the town and his brother Harry has received the Medal of Honor for saving many soldiers lives.

Uncle Billy goes to deposit $8,000 from Bailey Building & Loan Company into Potter’s Bank. He sees Potter and brags about his nephew, Harry’s success and leaves the $8,000 wrapped in the newspaper he is showing Potter. Potter keeps the money, and then calls the officials knowing he can finally close down Bailey Building & Loan Company.

George and Uncle Billy look for the missing $8,000. They cannot find it. George begs Potter for a loan to cover the missing money. Potter says no knowing he has the missing $8,000.

George is beside himself and decides to jump off a bridge and end it all. Clarence an angel comes down from heaven and pretends to have fallen so George will rescue him. Clarence then shows how the town would have been with Potter in control had George never been born.

George decides he wants to go back and live again and face the problem of the missing $8,000. He arrives at his house to find that Mary and Uncle Billy have collected $8,000 from the townspeople to cover the missing funds. Even the loan company examiner donates money!

George has listened, loved, helped, and cared for the townspeople of Bedford Falls for many years to achieve their dreams. When the chips were down, the townspeople of Bedford Falls came through for George. They wanted to give back all that George had given to them.

Isn’t this what every leader wants from the people he or she leads and serves?

George Bailey showed how much he cared for the people of Bedford Falls, New York. Teddy Roosevelt said, “People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

George’s friend Sam Wainwright sends a telegram authorizing his company to give George up to $25,000.

Harry Bailey comes home and says, “To my big brother, George, the richest man in town.” Clarence, the angel, says, “No man is a failure who has friends.”

In the end George Bailey, the leader, had gotten his dream.  He built Bedford Falls into a beautiful place for families to live. He helped inspire and motivate his townspeople to reach their potential.

Dr. John Maxwell said, “There is no success without sacrifice. You have to give up to go up. The heart of leadership is putting others ahead of yourself.”

What are the 3 things you learned about leadership from George Bailey?

1) George was willing to sacrifice his dreams to help others. He gives up his dream of traveling the world, of going to college, and building things in other places, to build the town of Bedford Falls, New York for the townspeople to have the best life possible.

Dr. John Maxwell said, “There is no success without sacrifice. You have to give up to go up. The heart of leadership is putting others ahead of yourself.”

2) George was a man of character, honor, integrity, patience, was accountable, reliable, listened to others, and cared about others. He was a problem solver. He built up Bailey Brothers Building & Loan by building Bailey Park, affordable homes for the townspeople. He helped others build their dreams. Great leaders have the same characteristics and values of George Bailey.

3) George Bailey showed how much he cared for the townspeople of Bedford Falls. He always put other peoples needs first! Because he cared about others and helps them, when he was in trouble the townspeople stepped up and helped him by coming up with $8.000.

Teddy Roosevelt said, “People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Clarence, the angel, said, “No man is a failure who has friends.”

By following these three leadership characteristics of George Bailey you to will become a leader people will want to support and emulate.


Madeline Frank, Ph.D., DTM is an Best Selling Author, John Maxwell Team Member, Certified World Class Speaking Coach, sought after speaker, business owner, motivational teacher, researcher, and concert artist. She helps businesses and organizations “Tune Up their Businesses”. Her innovative observations show you the blue prints necessary to improve and keep your business successful. She writes a monthly newsletter “Madeline’s Monthly article & Musical Tips Blog” and a monthly radio show “Madeline’s One Minute Musical Radio Show”. She has just published her new book “Leadership On A Shoestring Budget” available on Amazon or Kindle. Contact Madeline Frank for your next speaking engagement at






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