Learning Leadership from Big Brother

I don’t know about you, but every summer I find myself glued to my television three nights a week as each new episode of the reality show Big Brother airs.  I have watched all 20 (!) seasons of the show and I love the insanity of each summer.  But this summer was different.  The cast was full of nice people. And since they’ve all left the house and resumed their real lives, they have stayed in contact and shared their friendships live across the world via social media. [If you don’t know anything about the show, keep reading… I promise you will see a connection to leadership in a moment!]

As I have watched this evolution, which is so different from past seasons of contestants, I realized that there is more than just a reality show here.  You might be surprised to know that I believe we can learn leadership lessons from this particular season of this particular reality show.

Here are my top leadership lessons learned from Big Brother Season 20:

  1. LOYALTY – If you know the show at all, loyalty has not been a strength of many past contestants.  However, this season’s winner, Kaycee Clark (shout out to my hometown hero!), played an incredibly loyal game from beginning to end. As leaders, loyalty is important in our every day interactions with students, staff, parents, and community. When a school community knows that their leader is loyal, they feel safe. With safety comes trust, security, and risk-taking.  Loyalty is an important leadership strength that goes beyond wearing your school colors and deep into being there for your school community day in and day out.
  2. CREATIVITY – The premise of the Big Brother show is that a group of strangers are locked in a house with no access to the outside world – no TV, no music, no other people, and limited outdoor time. This is sometimes a recipe for craziness and drama.  It can also lead to some outstanding creativity.  This summer the house guests created their own original song (about Tyler), made crafts out of the random material available in the house (Sam was quite resourceful!), invented their own #TyeDyeMonday, and did a lot of hair straightening on each other. Leaders can serve as the models of creativity – whether it is about looking at budget concerns from a new perspective, or avoiding saying “no” to unusual requests, or celebrating what makes each student and educator unique. If leaders were forced to disconnect from social media and the outside world and only use what was available to them to solve a problem, how creative could we be?
  3. SUPPORT – I cannot imagine how I would deal with the daily pressure of living in a house with strangers where every move I made was recorded for the world to see. There were many moments throughout this year’s Big Brother where a house guest broke down crying. There were also many moments of support. During these moments, it didn’t matter which alliance people were from; they supported one another as caring human beings, not competitors. In education, sometimes people may break down in tears, but more often, the stress manifests itself in other ways.  As leaders, we can model support through big and small gestures – checking in on individuals when you know they’ve had a rough day, listening when someone shares a problem or a concern, or stopping our busy pace to make a personal connection with a colleague, especially during stressful situations. All educators work hard and deserve support from their leaders as well as their peers.
  4. ENCOURAGEMENT – Despite the fact that the Big Brother contestants were competing against one another for a $500,000 grand prize, they spent most of their time encouraging one another. In each competition, down to the battle between the final three, the house guests cheered each other on, offering words of encouragement and support. Since leaving the house, they have continued to encourage one another to dream big and achieve more. As leaders, we want to remember to be the voice that offers encouragement. Staff and students will respond better to positive encouragement than to criticism. We can encourage risk-taking, innovation, and hard work. We can celebrate the success of our peers and teammates because by lifting each other up, we encourage our entire community to do the same.
  5. STRATEGY – The Big Brother 20 winner, Kaycee, shared her game strategy before she went into the house. In her post-game interviews, she was able to say that she executed her strategy just as she had hoped to, and quite successfully (to the tune of $500,000!). Leaders need a strategy as well.  A strategy is a plan that helps us achieve our goals, whether short or long-term. Strategic leaders think two, three, and four steps ahead, always preparing for what is coming and how to overcome any obstacles along the way.

So if we are to learn anything from this reality show, I ask you to consider these questions as you reflect on your leadership:

  • How do you demonstrate loyalty as a leader?
  • How do you model and leave space for creativity in your work?
  • How do you support your school community?
  • In what ways do you offer words of encouragement to others?
  • What is your strategy and how do you communicate it to others? How do you involve others in strategic thinking on behalf of our students?

And if you had no idea what half of this blog was about, tune in to CBS for the winter season of Celebrity Big Brother or next summer’s season 21!


Kaycee Clark, BB 20 Winner     Source: https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/live-feed/big-brother-20-kaycee-clark-finale-interview-1147464 


About Amy's Reflections

Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services in Southern CA, taking time to reflect on leadership and learning
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