As I was going through some old files I found an old paper I wrote for school about the leadership differences between Calvin & Bugs Bunny….

~ Calvin & Bugs Bunny ~


In an ever changing world, “Effective is as effective does” is a good motto for getting things done and resolving issues. But effective leadership is not about a single individual taking care of business. It is about that individual leading those around him to successfully accomplish the task at hand. At the core of leadership is the relationship between the leader and the followers.  While there is vast disagreement over exactly what effective leadership is, most agree that it seems to make a substantial difference in almost any situation, and strong leadership is typically offered as a solution for many of the problems we face today.

To illustrate the difference between ineffective and effective leadership, we can take a look at the flawed leadership skills of the cartoon character Calvin, from “The Adventures of Calvin & Hobbes,” and the successful leadership skills of a different cartoon character, Warner Brothers’ Bugs Bunny.  Before we compare these two, we need to realize that there is no definitive set of characteristics that are proven to make an effective leader. “Just as notes on a page are not music, so do lists of qualities fail, in an important way, to capture the essence of leadership. Before music can happen, the notes on the page need at least one musician–that is, someone who can bring those symbols to audible life. Similarly, without the other situational elements, leadership can’t happen.” (McLellan, 1999)  Because of this, we need to look at the attributes of Calvin and Bugs Bunny in various situations, which can give us an overview of their total character.

Let’s begin by taking a look the leadership qualities that Calvin exhibits based on the authors opinion:

·      Challenges authority (as exhibited in his interactions with his parents and teacher)

·      Creative in solving problems (as shown by his use of a transmogrifier  /time machine/replicator, which is simply a large cardboard box that he changes to suit the purpose at hand)

·      Adventurous (seeks new frontiers as a brave explorer)

·      Dedicated (when Hobbes is missing, he’ll do anything to get him back)

·      Contemplative (likes to discuss things like “if you had three wishes,” and “what is the secret to happiness,” usually while on long wagon rides)

·      Independent and self-confident (prefers to go on his own adventures,  doesn’t like to play group things like baseball or boy scouts)

·      Pro-environment (complains about litter in the woods, concerned for animals he finds while playing outside) .

This list of traits would seem to be indicative of a strong leader.  According to Gardner (Gardner, 1989) the list of characteristics above would closely resemble those of a leader, due to their similarity with what Gardner found when he studied a large number of North American organizations and leaders.  However, as we further analyze Calvin, it becomes evident that he exhibits an Autocratic Leadership style. (Capezio & Morehouse, 1997 : 25)  To explore this we can turn to Heifetz’s (1994) important discussion of the matter.  Authority is often seen as the possession of powers based on formal role, and leaders are seen as people who have the right to direct others.  Calvin feels that he has the one and only correct vision of what should happen and tries to use this to change the environment in which he lives.  However, Calvin does not show the patience or the capacity to motivate others needed to be effective.  For example, let’s observe Calvin, from the adventures of “Calvin and Hobbes” — I refer, of course, to Calvin the boy… and Hobbes the tiger.

1st panel–Calvin: I’m the decisive, take-charge type. I’m a natural leader.

2nd panel–Calvin: “See, we’ll go this way.”   Hobbes: “Have fun.”

3rd panel–Calvin: “The trouble is, nobody wants to go where I want to lead them.”

This, of course, is a depiction of unsuccessful leadership, of leadership not working. But why doesn’t it work?  It does follow the concept that leaders are willing to chance it by continuing onward to the unknown. (Kouzes & Posner, 1987: 8)  But the problem Calvin encounters is that although he has the personal qualities (at least the “vision through people” part) of a successful leader, he has not motivated his followers to join him in the task at hand. Calvin feels that he knows what his followers want, and where he wants to take them.  However, he has not communicated a “clearly defined sense of purpose and direction” (Williams, 2000: 32).   This is vital, because if he were to consider this, there would be a better chance that they might share his vision. (Williams, 2000: 32)  Calvin does not understand that leadership goes beyond stating ones ideas and giving orders; it involves challenging, inspiring, enabling, modeling and encouraging (Kouzes & Posner, 1987:1) an individual to want to achieve something.  An effective leader will provide a path on which the individual can follow.  It is much more then “it depends on the situation.”  (Dobbs, 1999)

Calvin understands that the leaders he sees in his life (like his parents and teacher) may have the looks and quick wit to handle themselves in a social setting, but that this will not get them by forever. (Kotter, 1988)  However, although he can see the faults in those around him, he is blind to his own shortcomings.

Next, we will take a look at Bugs Bunny.  Compared to Calvin, actually, compared to most, Bugs Bunny could be characterized as an extremely effective leader.  Bugs Bunny’s success stems from the fact that he has mastered situational leadership – that is, he realizes that “there is no one best way to lead, leaders must be able to adapt to the situation and modify their leadership style to be most effective, and effective leaders vary their style with the readiness of followers.”  (Hersey & Blanchard, 2003: 476)  One of Bugs Bunny’s strongest characteristics is the fact that he is able to change his style to meet the context of the situation, thus following one of the earliest contingency theories, which was developed by Fiedler (1967) of whether the characters leadership skills appropriately match the event.  Here are some of Bugs Bunny’s major characteristics based on the author’s views:

  • Plans are extremely well thought out (as shown by his ability to prepare for the event at hand)
  • Gives clear directions (as shown by his precision to detail)
  • Excellent at working with all of the others (as shown with his interaction with other characters)
  • Very respected (other characters follow him)
  • High self-esteem (no problem is too big or too scary)
  • Enthusiastic and optimistic (always thinking with a win-win outcome)
  • A risk-taker (as shown by his innovative, yet fearless view on solving problems)
  • Decisiveness/results-oriented (Always starts with a plan and follows it through to the end)

Bugs Bunny furthermore exhibits a Blended Leadership Style. Bugs is a leader who takes into account the specific conditions of the situation and individuals, and will flex the circumstances and adapt to the needs of the followers.  In addition, Bugs Bunny uses a variety of skills to approach the situation at hand.  (Capezio & Morehouse, 1997: 25)

Bugs Bunny is also able to take a situation and diffuse it by changing the view of the problem.  Cohn (2002: 30-34) suggests that effective leaders do not change “who they are” but instead change how they are going to solve the problem.  In order for Bugs Bunny to keep ahead of the on-going problem, he must use his ingenuity to think out side of the box and come up with a clever solution, which turns the problem into an opportunity.  In many instances Bugs Bunny uses his persuasive leadership skills to challenge the other cartoon characters to help diffuse the situation.  Bugs is able to create a climate in which a win-win attitude prevails benefiting all of the characters involved. (Zairi, 1995)

There’s a moment in a Bugs Bunny cartoon when Bugs finds himself in the middle of a dilemma.  It seems as though Elmer Fudd is out hunting ducks (its duck season) and Daffy Duck remedies this situation by convincing Elmer Fudd that its actually rabbit season, so now Bugs Bunny is the prime target.  So, Bugs Bunny at first tries to rationalize with Elmer Fudd showing the negative (and funny) reasons why he shouldn’t hunt rabbit.  Then, once this doesn’t work, Bugs Bunny is able to change Elmer’s view of the situation totally and makes Elmer Fudd feel sorry for what he is doing (with the help of Daffy Duck); thus solving the problem.  Bugs Bunny turns the whole scenario into something else altogether, a conflict of viewpoints rather than a physical conflict between characters.  Even though this scenario does not show Bugs Bunny’s leading a group of characters, it shows how he can diffuse a situation in a manner, which earns him the respect of others. It also shows how Bugs Bunny was able to persuade both Daffy Duck and Elmer Fudd to see things with his viewpoint.

A crucial aspect of leadership is defined in terms of how the leader appears in the eyes of the beholder.  It’s not important how Bugs Bunny or Calvin see themselves, but instead how they come across to the people whom they are dealing with. (Hersey, 1984:27)  Calvin may have many leadership characteristics, but he does not take into consideration the fact that the people he’s trying to lead don’t take him seriously.  On the other hand, Bugs Bunny understands the thoughts of others and uses this to find a successful solution to the situation.

Another key difference between Bugs Bunny and Calvin is that Bugs Bunny ensures that what he is thinking actually happens.  He follows the notion that  “effective leaders make things happen, they just don’t sit around watching other people and waiting to react to whatever the situation occur.  They know what ought to happen, plan a way to make it happen, and then take steps to see that it does.” (Hersey, 1984:16)  As for Calvin, he is a forward and creative thinker, but only in his imagination do the things that he envisions actually occur.

Leadership involves the notion that the leader “knows what they want, why they want it, and of course, how to communicate what they want to others,” in order to gain their co-operation and support.  Lastly, “they know how to achieve their goals” (Bennis, 1998: 3).  But what is it that makes someone exceptional in this respect?  This is another example of how Bugs Bunny’s plays more of a leadership role then does Calvin.  Even though Calvin can see that there are problems in the world and has ideas of how to correct them, he doesn’t communicate his suggestions in a manner that could be convincing to others.  Instead, he tries to force his opinions on others.  On the contrary, Bugs Bunny utilizes what ever he can to gain an advantage in the situation, and then gets his fellow characters to rectify the situation, even if they don’t know that they are actually doing it.  Bugs Bunny has the ability to make sense of, and act in, situations that are out of the ordinary. In this way, leaders don’t simply influence; they have to show that crises or unexpected events and experiences do not faze them. Leaders may have formal authority, but they rely in large part on informal authority. This flows from their personal qualities and actions. They may be trusted, respected for their expertise, or followed because of their ability to persuade. (Russel, 2001)

Even though the two characters we compared are cartoon characters, they capture the styles and attitudes of the people who created them.  Because of this, we can see many different traits shine through that are relevant to real life leaders.  Bugs Bunny shows the spirit of a charismatic leader such as John F. Kennedy.  And it just may be that Hobbes (Calvin’s imaginary pet tiger) portrays more of a leadership role, providing a conscience and a sense of reason for Calvin’s exploratory mind then does Calvin himself.  Is it that Calvin knows that he could not lead alone? (Kouzes & Posner, 1987: 131)  This could represent an ironic twist that maybe it’s not always the person who is in the spotlight that is the leader, but instead it may be the one who is behind the scenes.

In conclusion, leadership is about a person who can lead the ones around them to successfully accomplish the task at hand.  The author has experienced this successful leadership style in many high pressure and dangerous situations on various emergency scenes as a fireman.  For example, the morning of 9/11/01 comes to mind.  Strong leadership skills were displayed by every level of command to, at first respond to a deadly MVA, and then not knowingly, but to make sure everything was prepared and ready to go for the next emergency, which happened to be about 2 hours later at 8:46 am.  From when the first call went out until my department was relieved, it was obvious that this was the first time our chiefs had been in this type of situation, but through using various leadership skills, they ensured that everything that could be done was being done, effectively and efficiently. (Silverthorne, 2001)  This, to the author, proves that the type of leadership that Bugs Bunny displays, one that will adapt to the situation and uses its ingenuity, will always prevail.



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