Movie Monday: Amazing Leadership in The Nightmare Before Christmas

By katie simpson on October 27, 2014

Halloween is almost here, so naturally I've been starting my binge of horror and spooky movies for the season. My favorite though? The Nightmare Before Christmas. Silly and spooky, it's a fun break from the fright and gore.

But this time around, I couldn't help but notice something about Jack, the Pumpkin King: He's actually a great leader. Even when he fails spectacularly, Jack has leadership lessons we can all learn from.

Charismatic brand

From the beginning Jack is loved by (almost) all of Halloween Town. While Halloween Town has an elected mayor, they look to Jack to lead Halloween every year. After the Halloween parade, female characters surround him, complimenting him on how spooky and terrifying he was. In a town that's about being creepy, Jack is the best.

Why? He emulates the values of the town. Jack is the scariest, the most creative in spooking others. He reflects the best of Halloween town, and what they hope to achieve each and every year. They respect him because they want to be as good as him.

Based on a 100 years of research, Jack's leadership isn't a surprise. We look up to those who inspire us, and provide positive role models. We follow those we want to be like, because their path becomes our path for achieving success.

Desire for change

In case you haven't seen the movie, the whole problem for Jack is that he's bored with Halloween. It's the same old thing again and again. He only becomes excited after accidentally stumbling into Christmas Town. Christmas Town is something different and full of feelings that he's not used to.

This desire for change can be seen as a part of charismatic leadership: these leaders don't merely inspire to do well, but to create lasting change. This inspiration leads not only to change, but more highly effective teams. In one study, teams with charismatic leadership were more motivated, did better results, and had stronger relationships. 

Jack's charisma engages most town members to participate and rise up to meet the challenge of Christmas. 

Engages everyone on their strengths

To take on Christmas, Jack can't do it alone: he needs all of Halloween Town's help. The whole town comes out, and Jack gives special jobs to each and every member of the town, from Lock, Shock, and Barrel to Sally. 

All of Halloween Town comes out to help. Source.

Jack engages people in a smart and pragmatic way: he acknowledges their strengths and plays up on them. Sally, for instance, is a great seamstress so he asks her to make his Santa Claus outfit. Jack trips onto some effective engagement. Gallup found that focuses on employees strengths the likelihood of an employee feeing engaged went from a dismal 11% to a whopping 74%.

Great leaders don't just ask for their employees to be engaged. They don't just hope that they'll beat the 11% odds. They understand what their employees are good at, and how to play on those strengths for further team and company success. 

Acknowledges and learns from mistakes

While Jack's charisma is able to engage the town, it isn't able to make their Christmas a success. He terrifies people so much that armies shoot him out of the sky (talk about going down in flames).

Now Jack could have done what most of us like to do: cover it up and gloss over the moment.  And he thought about it, hiding in a cave and dying there. 

Instead? Jack reflects on what he did well, and what he did poorly. He owns up to his mistakes. He acknowledges that he messed up by trying to take over Christmas. 

Then, he does something really interesting. Trying to do Christmas wasn't 100% awful he admits: it gave him many new ideas for next Halloween. Finding the silver lining, or looking at his mistake from a new angle is called reframing. Reframing is a great way to understand mistakes, and see what was in our control, and what wasn't. 

Jack realizes he needs to make amends. He returns to Halloween Town and frees Santa. He apologizes to Sally for not listening to her warnings. These actions are crucial for reestablishing trust with Christmas Town, and showing it won't happen again. Making amends shows we understand the problem of our previous behavior and are willing to change. 

Jack's response to his failure shows how leaders should  respond to making mistakes. He learns from them, and gets back out there. This resilience is beneficial not only to him, but also the whole town. In the end, they care more that he's still alive than for any potential mess up. 


The Nightmare Before Christmas, isn't about a leader who does everything right. In fact, Jack does a lot of stuff wrong. But, he lives the values of his community, engages people, understands their strengths, and dreams of doing things better and scarier than ever before. Most importantly, he learns from his mistakes and improves upon them. 

It's a shame we never get to see the Halloween after this botched Christmas. But at least we get a great model (and a fun movie) to enjoy during this spooky season. 


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