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Leadership Lessons from Leslie Knope of ‘Parks and Recreation’

Who knew NBC’s Parks and Recreation was littered with so many useful business tips? We’ve written about Andy Dwyer and Tom Haverford in the past; now it’s time to focus on Leslie Knope, the protagonist of the show as portrayed by Amy Poehler. Over the course of four seasons, Leslie has developed into a wonderfully layered character who successfully leads her coworkers at Pawnee’s Parks and Recreation department. Her leadership qualities and general attitude toward life are, in my opinion, pretty darn admirable. Let me introduce you to the reasons why I think Leslie makes a great leader:

She cares about the work.

If there’s anyone who’s dedicated to her job, it’s Leslie Knope. Leslie doesn’t treat her job as a chore; rather, she looks forward to it. She is well-versed in Pawnee’s history and genuinely loves the town that she serves, and she goes out of her way to improve the town so that others can enjoy the place as much as she does. As her campaign ad shows, she has been an advocate of her hometown since she was a little girl and has carried that passion into her adult life:

She is self-disciplined and ambitious.

Not only is Leslie invested in what she does, but she works really hard, too. She often spends her time outside of work researching projects, and even sneaks into the Parks and Recreation department to continue working during the brief time she’s been suspended from her post (long story). Besides putting all her efforts into current projects, she is also always looking ahead and setting goals for the future. Her ambitions, including one day becoming the first female president, may seem out of reach, but her work ethic and positive attitude might just take her all the way to the top.

She cares about the people.

Despite all the complaining Pawneeans do at town meetings, Leslie is still happy to lead the meetings and address the people’s issues because she deeply cares about their happiness. Leslie holds a special place in her heart for her coworkers; the personalized Christmas and birthday gifts she gives her friends each year are evidence of Leslie’s thoughtfulness and love for them. Such gestures inspire deep respect from her coworkers, leading to a strong team of supporters who do better work because of her.

She is optimistic and goodhearted.

Amy Poehler

Amy Poehler

Leslie tries to make work fun for those around her and spreads optimism even if the situation looks hopeless. Her positive attitude and confidence in her coworkers encourage success; for example, she and her team managed to put on a children’s concert even after severe budget cuts threatened to cancel the event. Leslie’s sense of humor also fosters a genial and productive atmosphere at the office.

She stands by her values.

Leslie strongly believes in her personal values and her stances on various political issues. However, she doesn’t look down on others who disagree with her. Whether it be an inconsequential thing like her opinion on Twilight or something as important to her as not running an attack ad during her campaign, Leslie sticks to her guns. When she does take offense to something, she stands up for herself. For instance, in the episode “Bowling for Votes,” Leslie doesn’t apologize to voters for her boyfriend punching a Pawnee resident who had called her an insulting name. Instead, she stands up for herself at a town press conference and actually wins voter favor because of it.

Granted, Leslie is not perfect—she often takes things too personally and has a hard time accepting when someone doesn’t like her (such as the man from “Bowling for Votes”). Her competitive nature can also sometimes be a hindrance rather than a help. But despite her faults, Leslie Knope is still a strong role model for leadership, and we can all learn a little something from her.

Do you agree that Leslie is a good leader? Are there other strengths and weaknesses that you see in her character? What qualities do you think are most important for any leader or manager?

Image credit to Edgar Zuniga Jr. and Rubenstein.


Rachel Hamsmith

When not writing for the blog, Rachel is a data entry specialist at QLP. She spends most of her free time consuming a variety of geeky TV shows, movies, and books, as well as funny cat videos and other Internet oddities. Otherwise, she moonlights as an editor for a literary magazine and tries to spend as much quality time as she can with friends and family. You can also connect with Rachel on Google+.

Comments

  1. Cybernetic SAM

    Great post! I love her determination as well! The Valentine’s day episode was the epitome of her determination. That determination mixed with all these qualities makes her a great leader, not to mention you can’t be a leader without someone to lead, so the people that surround her (who also inspire her) make her the great leader she is!!!

    • Rachel

      Excellent point about the people that surround her — they definitely are essential to her being a good leader! Without them, the Parks department couldn’t function the way it does. Glad you liked the post! :)

  2. Jill Tooley

    I know Leslie Knope is only a character on a TV show, but she’s an outstanding woman! If I had only a fraction of her drive, I’d surely get stuff DONE in my life. Like a boss.

    Have I ever mentioned how much I adore Parks and Rec? Sam’s totally right; Leslie succeeds not only because she’s determined, but also because her team pulls together to help her when she gets into a bind. They’re her support system. She’d bend over backwards for them (and they know that) so of course they’re willing to go the extra mile for her when it’s needed.

    “She cares about the people” is one of the biggest selling points for Leslie as a leader. Oh boy, does she CARE. She’s not afraid to stand up for what’s right and pour her heart and soul into the campaign in an effort to better the town she loves. There’s something to be said about that!

    Great post, Rachel! :)

    P.S. That Christmas gift-giving episode made me tear up. Seriously — it was incredible to see the supporting characters pitch in to make Leslie’s holiday a memorable one!

    • Rachel

      I totally feel the same way about Leslie! If she were a real person, she’d totally be a role model for me. She really just puts her all into everything she does. I agree that how much she cares about other people is one of her greatest strengths, if not the greatest!

      Also, I’m glad I’m not the only one who teared up over the Christmas episode… :)

  3. Amy Swanson

    I love Leslie because of all of the reasons you’ve listed above and so many more, Rachel! She’s awesome and just so down to Earth :)

    It always seems that she doesn’t delegate as often as she should since she’s doing five projects at once all the time, but then again she’s never afraid to ask for help from her team. She’s very complex and such an interesting person to analyze their leadership skills, what a great idea!

    • Rachel

      Good point about her not being very good at delegating; it’s definitely one of her weaknesses. Wasn’t there a episode where Leslie was sick or suspended or something, and the rest of the department had to divvy up her regular tasks and were overwhelmed by how much she did each day? Besides not delegating, doing all the tasks herself also means there’s no one else in the organization who knows what to do if she’s not there — as was proven by that episode. It’s awesome how productive she is, but yes, she does need to learn to delegate. :)

      • Amy Swanson

        I think I remember that episode! I really liked her in the episode this season when she was being questioned about her relationship with Ben and she had to find a loophole (I’m trying not to give anything away). So she asked everyone to do something and gave some ridiculous task to Andy so he’d stay out of trouble but still feel valued. I think that’s what I really like her, she treats everyone with respect… even Jerry, well sometimes. ;)

        • Rachel

          Aww, I forgot about that example with Andy! Definitely a great one to show how she cares about everyone. And poor Jerry, haha … I always feel so bad for him! ;)

  4. Mandy Kilinskis

    Leslie’s work ethic is so incredible. She can create things in a matter of hours that it would take other people days to complete. She’s also not afraid to dig in and analyze even the most simple of projects just to make sure that everything is covered.

    As Amy mentioned, though, she really needs to learn when/how to delegate better. Even though she’s a hard worker, there are times when you just can’t take on another project. I understand wanting to have everything done perfectly, but sometimes you just gotta lean on others.

    • Rachel

      She really does have a freakishly awesome work ethic! But yes, I agree with you and Amy that she needs to delegate more. And yeah, she does tend to take on too many projects and doesn’t know how to say no, because she just wants to do everything and help everybody. I think that’s a weakness a lot of people can relate to. Thanks for the comment, Mandy! :)

  5. Jen

    Leslie sounds like an awesome character and someone I could really relate to. I’ve only seen the very first episode of Parks and Recreation, but I plan on at some point watching all the seasons. Nice post Rachel, I’m psyched to watch now!

    • Rachel

      Leslie is really amazing, and so is the show! Her character is much different in the first season than in later seasons; it’s more like she’s the female version of Michael Scott from “The Office” in early episodes. But in season 2 she starts to become the character she is today — a huge improvement, in my opinion. I hope you give Parks and Rec a go, I think you’d really enjoy it! :)

  6. Jaimie Smith

    I have never seen this show! But reading this blog and seeing the little clips you added actually makes me want to give the show a shot.
    She sounds like she’s a very inspiring person and awesome leader. Being a leader is not always an easy thing to do. If she’s got what it takes then more power to her!
    This was an awesome post, Rachel! I really enjoyed it!

    • Rachel

      It’s a great show! I’d definitely recommend it. And I’m glad you enjoyed reading about Leslie even though you don’t know anything about her, hah! Thanks, Jaimie. :)

  7. Joseph Giorgi

    I’ll admit: “Bowling for Votes” was a pretty fantastic episode. I’ve been outspoken about by indifference toward Parks and Rec in the past, but I’m slowly coming around to it. I promise. And I definitely agree about Leslie — “we can all learn a little something from her.”

    Awesome post, Rachel!

    • Mandy Kilinskis

      Oh my goodness. Just another sign that the end of the world is coming. ;)

    • Rachel

      Hooray! I’m glad you’re getting sucked into Parks and Rec! “Bowling for Votes” was a great episode for sure. I promise there are a lot of other good ones from previous seasons that you’ll enjoy too … ;)

  8. Jeff Porretto

    Well I just kind of skimmed this one seeing as how I’m in the middle of season 2 right now and I want to avoid any spoilers. But I definitely agree that despite the buffoonery of it being a TV show, she makes a great dang ol role model! I especially like her integrity of self reporting herself when they drank the wine out of the gift baskets. It cracked me right up, but there’s a lesson there…. hold yourself to higher standards!

    Thanks Rachel!

    • Rachel

      Great example with the gift basket! She definitely has a set of values that informs each of her decisions, and it shows in examples like that.

      Have fun going through the rest of the series! You have a lot of excellent episodes and plot developments to come. :)

  9. Alex Brodsky

    Leslie Knope is a fantastic character and Amy Poehler is repeatedly robbed at the Emmys for her portrayal.

    I’m a few episodes behind, but O… M… G!!!! She’s running against Paul Rudd?! I’ve totally got a man-crush on him! His career also shows a good work ethic that leads to eventual success.

    Awesome post Rachel!

    • Rachel

      Yes! Paul Rudd has been hilarious in his few cameos so far. Great point about his career also showing good work ethic — very true! Thanks, Alex. :)

      • Jenna Markowski

        AMEN to the crush on Paul Rudd! It seems like now would be an excellent time for me to get caught up on this show. I’ve been wanting to watch it for a while now, and Paul Rudd might be just the kick in the butt I need! :)

  10. Eric

    Sadly, I’ve never seen so much as an episode of “Parks & Recreation.” I have seen Paul Rudd (“Pistol Pete”), however and – in agreement with Alex – would say he’d be some tough competition!

    • Rachel

      Sad times! We’ll have to get you hooked on the show somehow … we’ve almost lured Joe over, now it’s your turn. ;) Thanks for commenting, Eric!

  11. Jenna Markowski

    WHY HAVEN’T I WATCHED THIS SHOW YET?! The more you guys write about it, the more I want to see it, so I should probably get on it.

    It seems like Leslie Knope definitely has some great leadership qualities. I think caring about the people is one of the most important qualities a leader can have. Everything works out better for everyone when the team runs like a well-oiled teamwork machine, rather than a indifferent, forced, rusty one.

    Excellent post Rachel! :)

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