Leadership and Main

Bettering Others and the World You Live In

Earning Our Wings

earning our wings

Earning our wings in leadership has one fundamental requirement, to serve others well. Each of us have had the awesome responsibility of leading people bestowed upon us. We have been entrusted to be the person that gets them where they need to go.

My favorite movie of all time is It’s a Wonderful Life. I watch it at the turn of every new year and anytime I need an adjustment in my perspective. If you have never seen it, I highly recommend it. There are so many leadership principals buried in this classic.


The main character in the movie is George Bailey. He is a pillar of the community and enters a difficult season of life and considers ending it. He has lost sight of the impact he has had in the lives of so many.

To me, an often-overlooked character in the movie is Clarence, George’s guardian angel. Clarence is sent from heaven to Intercede George’s life during this difficult season.  Clarence is a 282-year-old AS2, Angel Second Class. His status as “second class” is because he doesn’t have his wings.

Heaven had received a large amount of prayer traffic for George Bailey, so God sends Clarence to help. If Clarence is successful in helping George, he will finally get his wings.

Here are the five lessons I have learned from Angel Second Class Clarence Odbody and the process of earning our wings in life and leadership through service to others:

Meet Them Where They Are

Clarence had to go to George. He had to meet him where he was at, down and out, in Bedford Falls, New York. Clarence had to leave the comforts of his home…heaven, to go and serve George.

As we climb the leadership ladder, it is easy to forget the need to meet our people where they are. Whether it is your direct reports or entry level team members, in order to serve them well, we need to meet them where they are. When we do this, we get closer to them, we understand their problems, their challenges, and their needs. Our presence is an underutilized tool in leadership. Meet them where they are.

Curiosity Counts

When Clarence receives his assignment from God, he asks great questions. The line of questioning helps him understand how he can serve George best. When Clarence asks if George is sick, God responds, “worse, he is discouraged.” Right then and there, Clarence knew what he was working with and how George needed to be served.

Another challenge we face when we grow in leadership experience is that we tend to make more statements of advice to our people than ask questions of them. Leading by asking questions can help us enter into the worlds of our people. It opens the door to dissect seasons of struggle and discouragement. Curiosity counts in leadership.

Show Up When It Counts

Clarence enters George’s life at a critical point. George is at the edge of a bridge, ready to jump and end it all. He is past the point of discouragement, he is done. George’s guardian angel showed up when it counted most, the right place, at the right time.

Timing is everything in leadership. Walking into a team members world when everyone else is walking out is a game changer. Showing up at funerals of loved ones, providing that shoulder to cry on, sending that hand-written note that shows up just at the right time, simple presence when the walls of someone’s life is caving in, or being that source of encouragement when their world has completely fallen apart. Never underestimate the value of timing.  Show up when it counts.

Inspire The Servant Within Them

Clarence ends up throwing himself into the river below the bridge where George was ready to jump from. He did this because he knew George’s heart. Clarence knew that George would come to his rescue. It redirected George’s thoughts away from his own self-pity and towards Clarence.

I once heard that the best way to get through a tough season in life or leadership is to serve others. When we serve others, it takes the focus off of us and places it on them. When someone is discouraged, serve them by inspiring the servant within them.

Provide Perspective

After they got out of the water, they found refuge inside. During the process of warming up and drying out, George’s discouragement reached its tipping point. He cried out, “I wish I had never been born at all!”

So…what did Clarence decide to do to serve George? He provided perspective. Clarence walked George through his hometown, but there was one key thing missing, George himself. Clarence granted him his wish. George was able to experience what the lives of the people he served would have looked like if he had never been born at all. Those people’s lives were worse off for it.  George’s perspective completely changed.

Whether its guardian angels or leaders, both have the ability to provide perspective. When discouragement arrives in the lives of our people, we can remind them of how different our organization would be without them. More importantly, we can provide a testimony as to what our own lives would look like without them in it. Leaders provide perspective.


Are you a leader? That is a question that I generally start off most leadership talks with. You may be surprised to find out that Clarence’s profession was clock making. Probably not the most prestigious jobs. When the leadership team in heaven was considering who to send, Clarence was described as having, “the IQ of a rabbit.”

Here is what Clarence was equipped with, “the faith of a child.” He believed. He believed in his purpose to serve others and most of all George Bailey. Belief in someone is one of greatest tools you can give someone who follows you.

At the end of the movie, Clarence leaves a handwritten note for George.  It read, “Remember…no man is a failure who has friends.  Thanks for the wings.”  Here is what Clarence got that we can so easily miss.  In the process of earning our wings in leadership, never forget the importance of serving others.   

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