This October, a live-action version of the 80’s cartoon Jem and the Holograms will be hitting the big screen, and to prepare myself for the film I’ve been rewatching the cartoon (available to stream on Netflix now). For those unfamiliar, I’ll attempt to give a brief synopsis:

Jerrica Benton and her sister Kimber are the daughters of a long-suffering inventor, working on a top-secret computer project. When he passes away, the sisters discover what he was working on: a high-resolution hologram projecting computer called Synergy. Seeking to protect their family’s record label, Starlight Music, while also making enough money to support the orphans living at their Starlight House, the sisters and two other lifelong friends form Jem and the Holograms, with Jerrica taking on the alter ego, rockstar Jem.

If you’re interested in seeing more, the first episode is on YouTube in full.

In addition to being highly talented, Jem/Jerrica also showed tremendous leadership qualities- anyone interested in leadership could learn a great deal from “them.”

The team is the most important thing. I always found it interesting that the group was held together by a computer named “Synergy.” Although offers were constantly made to Jem to appear on her own, she always refused, insisting on staying a part of the group. Not all leaders are so gracious in this understanding of the team as a unit. By insisting that the Holograms remain a unit, she built the trust of her band members- the only others who knew that Jerrica and Jem were one and the same- and also was able to inspire the girls residing at Starlight House. She also ensured that she had the support that she needed when the obligations of living a double life caught up with her, as it did in a few episodes.

Let the spotlight shine elsewhere. Not every episode was about the Holograms, or even about their rivalries with the Misfits. Episodes, some of them “very special” (as was often the case in the 1980s) focused on the Holograms’ friends, and the orphans who lived with them in Starlight House. The show was stronger for this occasional look at other areas, as your organization could also be. And indeed, part of being a leader is being able to decide when attention should be deflected from you. Make sure to let your members, volunteers, and supporters (advisors, staff, etc.) take center stage once in a while- this is the sign of an inclusive and confident leader!

The Misfits, rivals to Jem and the Holograms. IMAGE CREDIT: Wikimedia

Focus on the work. The Holograms had a rival band, the Misfits, who always seemed to care more about making sure the Holograms didn’t succeed, than actually succeeding in their own right.  Even in the moments where they likely could have won handily, Jem encouraged the rest of the Holograms to take the high road, never disrupting the work of the other group- and in some cases actually being active in helping them through difficult times. It can be easy to look to your rivals to drive your work; the best leaders avoid that temptation, put on blinders, and focus on what it will take to elevate themselves naturally.

Know the difference between authentic and transparent. Jem may seem like an odd role model when it comes to authenticity. She is the alter ego of a music executive, and only a handful of people know who she really is. Even Jerrica’s own boyfriend, Rio, doesn’t know about her double life!

But Jerrica/Jem does something important in this double life she leads- she is selective about what information she shares with the world. She never outright lies, and she is never inauthentic. She simply compartmentalizes what elements of each personality she shows to the world. In an era where it’s easy (and in some cases, profitable and entertaining) to overshare, Jerrica/Jem is a wonderful example of restraint, even if by necessity. Be honest, be forthright…but know that this doesn’t always mean being a fully open book.

Have you watched Jem and the Holograms? What other lessons have you learned from it (and not just from the Very Special Episodes?)

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