Cartoon Leaders Who May (Or May Not) Be Good Role Models

Long before we even think about what we’d like to do for a career or even our first summer job, we’re exposed to a variety of leaders.  You know the ones there during weekday afternoons or even Saturday mornings?
In no particular order, below is a list of cartoon characters that are either bad or good examples of leadership (note that not all of them are necessarily from children’s cartoons):
The Bad


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  • Mr. Burns (The Simpsons) – Let’s start with one of the most infamous and iconic leaders in cartoons.  Most people will recognize this power-hungry nuclear tycoon.  Some could say he’s a wealthy businessman (depending on which episode you’re watching), but if you’re an employee under Burns’ leadership, you better watch out.  He’s the perfect example of a self-serving leader only looking out for his own best interests.  The employees do get some nice perks (naps during work hours, anyone?), but I’m betting there’s a high turnover rate at that power plant.  Don’t say the wrong thing around this one, or he may “release the hounds.”
  • Mr. Slate (The Flintstones) – Mr. Slate actually isn’t that bad of a leader.  In fact, he seemed to have an ok working relationship with Fred.  However, he has no patience for Fred’s mistakes.  He likes to fire Fred on a regular basis.  Instead of firing and re-hiring an employee consistently, he should spend more time giving Fred some direction.  Yabba-Dabba don’t do this.
  • Spencer Cogswell (The Jetsons) – While George Jetson’s boss, Cosmo Spacely, has his own set of problems (another leader who loves to fire and re-hire his employees), he doesn’t compare to their infamous competitor Cogswell.  This leader isn’t above stealing other’s ideas or firing employees for little-to-no reason.  Stop this crazy thing!
  • Professor Farnsworth (Futurama) – He might be a great individual contributor since he always seem to invent something you need just at the right time, but watch out if you report to him!  This leader has a tendency to sleep on the job, especially when you need something from him.  For the most part, he’s honest with you, but he has a habit of forgetting to mention important details, especially in challenging and even dangerous situations.  He also doesn’t provide a lot of support when you need it most.  You might find a better leader on Omicron Persei 8.
  • Pointy-haired Boss (Dilbert) – If you could think of all the stereotypes of bad leaders and ball them under one individual, you’d get the Pointy-haired Boss.  Can you say “demotivated?”  He says and does everything the wrong way.   He usually makes uneducated decisions and most of them are highly unethical.  HR probably has a whole filing cabinet dedicated to just him.  Don’t expect any direction, support, or any input, for that matter.  It’s time to start combing your own hair to a point if you want him to notice you in a favorable light.

The Good

  • Splinter (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) – You could argue that Leonardo is the leader of the green machine, but at the end of the day, who do they actually report to?  That’s right, it’s the wise rat.   He always seems to support his team the right way.  In fact, I don’t recall Splinter ever making any real leadership mistakes/gaffes.  Sure, he gets captured by the Foot Clan, but who doesn’t?  He’s more than just a great leader since he’s also a father-figure.  Don’t get caught goofing off on the job, though.  You might find yourself doing 10 flips.
  • Optimus Prime (Transformers) – Yes, it’s the infamous leader of the Autobots.  This leader fights for righteousness every step of the way.  He could’ve landed on Earth an only thought about his own problems.  Instead, he protects all forms of life.  He’d sacrifice himself before sacrificing others.  He’s a cross-species(?) kind of leader and has all the servant leader qualities.  Roll out!
  • Keith (Voltron) – Keith is a good example of a leader who follows the GROW acronym.  He likes to read in order to educate himself and he always thinks about how he can improve.  He’s another leader that looks out for his team.  Need to form the head?  Don’t worry, Keith has you covered.
  • Papa Smurf (The Smurfs) – This is another leader who also has a parental role.  He deeply cares and loves those who follow him.  He helps those that have made mistakes or need guidance.  Yes, he’ll get upset if his orders aren’t followed, but when the health and safety of the village rests in your hands, it’s easy to understand.  Isn’t that Smurfy?
  • Lucky (Pound Puppies) – If you watched the Pound Puppies during the 80’s, you might not know Lucky.  Lucky is actually the leader on the new version of Pound Puppies.  This is the leader my own daughter would pick.  While he commands respect (he is the alpha dog of the show, after all), he still does it without coming off as rude or mean.  He cares about his crew, helps them in any way he can, and is always willing to do what’s necessary.  Once a Pound Puppy, always a Pound Puppy!

What other cartoon leader makes a good or bad role model from your point of view?  What makes them stand out from the rest?
(After compiling this list, I realize that it is composed of all-male characters and it could use more balance.  If you can think of female characters that have good or bad leadership qualities, please leave them in the comments section).
Leave your comments!

8 thoughts on “Cartoon Leaders Who May (Or May Not) Be Good Role Models

  1. Great post Matt. I can tell the generational differences here because most of these are cartoons that my kids have watched, although I appreciate you throwing in some Flinstones and Jetsons references!
    I think of Wiley E. Coyote from the Roadrunner cartoons. He wasn’t that smart, but you have to give him an A+ for persistence. No matter the obstacles and failures he encountered he never gave up.
    Of course another one is Bugs Bunny. Smart, savvy, great problem solver. Excellent traits for any leader.

    • Thanks, Randy! I might be younger, but I’m not so young that I don’t remember the classics. I even watched a little Rocky and Bullwinkle as a child.
      Wiley E. Coyote is a great example of persistence. Though, he likely wouldn’t last long as an employee. The insurance costs would be too high to keep him on the team.

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