Trust lessons from master muppeteer, Jim Henson

Written by Mathieu Yuill

January 23, 2019

It isn’t easy being green.

As creator of Kermit the Frog and Muppet franchise, Jim Henson was the man in charge to a company with hundreds of employees. But unlike other heads of corporate America known for their tyranny and miserable treatment of employees (think the management stylings of Steve Jobs), Jim Henson was known for his patience, aptitude for collaboration and most of all, trust in his employees.

Where even the janitors contribute creatively

The Muppet office is known as a workshop – it was the place where designers would work on the characters – and was famous for its openness and being a place where it was okay to try new things. Jim’s assistant, Alex Rockwell, told Fast Company Jim created an atmosphere where anyone was able to contribute.

“[A] good idea could come from anywhere . . . even this guy who I think was the janitor in the building would come up to him almost every other day and have an idea, and Jim would sit and actually really listen to the idea and if he liked it he would actually comment on it and say, ‘Write it down.’”

Others in the organization spoke of his expectation for everyone to have better ideas than him and he encouraged it. He would actively listen to the ideas of his employees and if they had a great idea he would put it into action.

Taking joy in employee success

Tales of Jim watching playback of other’s characters and laughing are legendary. He took delight in seeing what his employees had come up with and took joy in seeing the good in every piece of work – even when improvements could be made.

Jim didn’t manage from a place of fear but from a place of trust. He led by example which encouraged and empowered his employees to reach heights they never would have if they had been kept under the thumb of a micro-managing boss.

A fearful boss has no employees

When you choose to lead from fear and not trust your employees you end up trying to be successful all on your own. Your reports don’t commit to you or your mission at all. Any loyalty is feigned and without substance.

Jim Henson had such fabulous success – and success that survived him – because he put trust in his employees and truly lived the value. His leadership style led to timeless tradition and a legacy that matters.


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