InsideOut Development

12 Leadership Lessons from Sesame Street

by Lindsay Bragg
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Viewers first walked down Sesame Street on November 10, 1969. For the last 49 years, the characters, Muppet and human alike, have entertained and inspired children while educating them on everything from the numbers and letters, to diversity and emotions. 

But these fuzzy characters have lessons for adults, too. Read on for 12 leadership lessons you might not have noticed in Sesame Street.

1. Never lose sight of your message.

Throughout each episode of Sesame Street, the characters would wander around the neighborhood and talk to different people, but in every conversation, there was an overarching theme (perhaps, everything had to do with the letter C).

Consistency is key. Teams work better when they have clear expectations, so build consistency with your coaching habits. When holding coaching conversations, keep your conversations on track and on message with a conversation framework like the GROW Model®.

2. Stay positive.

In 1996, parents were fighting (quite literally) to get their hands on a Tickle Me Elmo in time for the holidays. This little doll, which giggled and vibrated when you squeezed him, was on every child’s wish list. Elmo’s laugh is one of his most memorable features because he can see the positive in any situation.

All too often, individuals and organizations fall into a trap of focusing on negative trends, but identifying positive trends can offer insights into overlooked strengths and assets that could be maximized for powerful results. Focus on the positive by starting any Check In or Feedback conversation by asking, “What’s Working?”

3. Don’t give up.

More recently, singer Bruno Mars made a guest appearance on Sesame Street to sing a song with the Muppets about the importance of perseverance. 

Tough decisions at work may seem more complicated than learning to catch a ball, but the advice remains the same. Don’t give up. When you feel overwhelmed, use the GROW Model. It’s a decision-making framework that breaks the problem into manageable next steps.

This post is brought to you by the letter "C". Click the button below to learn some great leadership habits—that all start with C.

Navigating the 7 Cs of Good Leadership

4. Speak directly to your audience.

One of the reasons Sesame Street connects with children around the world is their propensity to speak directly to the camera. And they aren’t talking AT the camera. They invite viewers to be a part of their conversation, even using second person (“you”) voice. This makes people, child or adult, feel important.

Adopt this tendency in your workplace. Prioritize conversations. Don’t rely on email for every update. Learn more about active listening in this blog post.

5. Overcome fear.

In this conversation, Zoe helps James Gandolfini, (best known for his role in The Sopranos) overcome his fears. 

 Interference is anything that keeps us from peak performance. It’s the things, physical or mental, that get in the way. A leader’s job is to remove interference to draw out higher performance. Fear, in one form or another, is the main cause of interference. To help your employees overcome their fears, follow Zoe’s example. Both parties are open about where they get stuck and what they can do to overcome it.

6. It’s OK to ask for help.

No matter the situation, the residents of Sesame Street know they can turn to each other for help. Whether learning to count or deciding whether to tell the truth, there is always someone on the street who is willing to help. And likewise, the characters are always willing to ask.

Create an environment on your team where anyone can ask for help solving their tough problems. Remember, you don’t have to be an expert to coach your team through a problem or decision. A good coaching model helps team members talk through their problems and discover their own Way Forward.

7. Be empathetic.

Another special guest visited Sesame Street to help Murray understand empathy. Mark Ruffalo uses animated examples to explain: “You could understand exactly how I felt. That’s empathy.” 

 Great coaches make sure they understand exactly how their employees feel. They let employees talk first and more often, especially in those “tough conversations.” They also make sure to explore the employee’s Reality so together they can discover Options and Ways Forward that will work within the employee’s Reality. It may be different than yours.

8. Keep it simple.

Elmo and friends didn’t overwhelm their audience and instead focused on simple, comprehensible points. They didn’t expect themselves or others to learn the alphabet in one episode, so they just focused on one letter at a time.

When helping team members set goals or determine next steps, help them narrow down to something simple and actionable. Remember that progress is gradual—one letter at a time.

9. Value people as individuals.

Sesame Street is filled with unique characters. They had different fur colors and skin colors; some had wings or tails; some were just learning to count, others “counted” all day long. A recurring segment on the show featured the song “People in Your Neighborhood.” 

Everyone on your team has something to contribute and something to teach, regardless of their role. Recognize that uniqueness and learn to work with their eccentricities. Be open to new ideas.

10. Invite change. Don’t force it.

Oscar the Grouch never really changes. He’s always kind of…well…grouchy. His friends encourage him to see and engage with the world differently, but they never force him to change.

To bring about real change in your team members, they need to be a part of the process. Long-term change is more effective when the employee has a chance to be a part of the goal-setting process. Often, poor performance stems from misaligned goals. Use alignment conversations to get your team on the same page and make an action plan to move forward.

11. Share.

One of Sesame Street’s recurring lessons is the importance of sharing. 

 As an adult, sharing more often means sharing credit. Recognize and reward the efforts of your team and be ready to run with new ideas, even if they aren’t yours.

12. When in doubt, eat a cookie.

This isn’t just leadership advice. It’s more life advice.

 cookie monster

“Today, me will live in the moment. Unless it is unpleasant. In which case, me will eat a cookie.”


Don’t forget to check out this infographic brought to you by the letter C.

Navigating the 7 Cs of Good Leadership


What leadership advice did we miss? Tell us in the comments.

Category: Coaching GROW Model Holidays Coaching Culture

Picture of Lindsay Bragg

Lindsay is a Communications Specialist at InsideOut Development and holds a degree in Public Relations from Brigham Young University. She’s also worked as a newspaper reporter and account director at a PR agency. When she’s not researching or writing great content on nearly every HR topic under the sun, she volunteers teaching leadership skills to children and adults with disabilities at an equine assisted therapy center.

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