Leadership Lessons from The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

erin downey howerton —  March 23, 2015 — Leave a comment

If you haven’t yet watched Tina Fey’s new sitcom Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt then I suggest you turn on Netflix, quick! It’s like a Lisa Frank binder that became real (literally, there’s a dolphin in one episode) and subversively started feeding you lessons on how to make your life better. If a former kidnapped cult member can do it, you can do it too! Leadership, Kimmy Schmidt style:

Be comfortable with yourself.

One of the first things a newly freed Kimmy buys is a pair of light-up sneakers. While this mightkimmy be a strange move for a 29 year old, Kimmy isn’t worried about things like this. She wears bright colors and things that make her feel good, and she projects that image out into the world. But your clothes don’t have to do all the talking – just be true to yourself, and be authentic in your interactions with others. When the real you shines through, you gain people’s trust.

“Hashbrown no filter!”

Poor Kimmy doesn’t know what a hashtag is, or an Instagram. She’s pretty blown away by “Macintosh phones!” But that’s ok. She tries to understand and apply what she’s learned about the world to help improve it. She takes chances, jumps in, and repeats her core message: it’s all gonna be ok. And you don’t have to fake it with a filter… again, being yourself is the key to success.

You can stand anything for ten seconds at a time.

Kimmy had to put up with an awful lot of strange and awful stuff in the bunker where she was trapped in Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne’s doomsday cult. She figured out a secret: just try to get through the next ten seconds. When the heat is on, a real leader takes a deep breath and stays with the problem… even if you have to deal with it in ten second increments. Kimmy reminds us: nothing is forever, and you can get through anything if you just concentrate on being present.

“Smile until you feel better. I call it Kimmying.”

It’s true: you can fake it until you make it! And sometimes you have to, because it’s hard to stay positive. Great leaders stay positive and upbeat despite setbacks, to encourage and inspire their teammates. Every day, practice “Kimmying” until it becomes second nature to look on the bright side! Pretty soon, you won’t be faking it – you can summon up the strength to deal with whatever the day throws at you.

“Life beats you up, Titus.”

“You can either curl up in a ball and die… or you can stand up and say we’re different. We’re the strong ones, and you can’t break us.” Kimmy encourages her new roomie, Titus, not to give up on his dreams of Broadway. Kimmy’s certainly not giving up on her dreams for a “normal” life after the bunker! And you shouldn’t give up, either. Sometimes leading by example means becoming unbreakable – being resilient in the face of challenges large and small. Being strong doesn’t mean being perfect, but it does mean committing to never giving up. And that can mean stepping back, regrouping, and trying again the next day. It can mean continuing to advocate for your patrons, your co-workers, your friends, and yourself. To me, leadership means building the strength to become unbreakable, and inspiring others to do the same.


So while you might think that a sitcom about an escaped “Mole Woman” and the zany, imperfect people she meets on her journey to rejoin the world ISN’T about leadership, it actually is. Kimmy might just be the leader we’ve been waiting for. So embrace and project the authentic you, take chances and learn everything you can from the people around you, take life ten seconds at a time, keep smiling, and never let life break you down. You’re an unbreakable leader who has the power to make a positive difference!

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