Leadership by Osmosis

Soak up the secrets of SpongeBob SquarePants.


This November, Nickelodeon’s animated SpongeBob SquarePants makes his big-screen splash. Haven’t heard of the aquatic icon? Well, he lives in a pineapple under the sea — and he has spawned a host of fan sites, attracted a religious following, and been named TV Guide‘s ninth-greatest cartoon character ever. We smell a leader!

  1. Resiliency is key.
    (Episode: “Rock Bottom”) In today’s global economy, leadership is all about your multis: multinational, multicultural, multilingual. How multi are you? Marooned in an unfamiliar abyss, SpongeBob must summon his willpower and resources to learn a new dialect, land some grub, and find his way back to Bikini Bottom.
  2. Recruit the best.
    (Episode: “Mermaidman and Barnacleboy”) Behind every good leader is a great team — so hire wisely. On learning that superhero crime fighters Mermaidman and Barnacleboy live in a nearby rest home, SpongeBob coaxes them out of retirement to do what they do best: protect Goo Lagoon from evildoers.
  3. Don’t Rest on your laurels.
    (Episode: “Employee of the Month”) A leader strives to keep his edge. After winning employee of the month 26 times in a row, SpongeBob finds his streak at risk. He rushes to outclean, outcook, and outwork his rival Squidward. “Having pride in your work,” he says, “is the only thing that makes it all worthwhile.”
  4. Innovate, innovate, innovate.
    (Episode: “Patty Hype”) Good leaders follow the rules. Great leaders change them. When SpongeBob’s suggestion for multicolored “pretty patties” is rejected, he strikes out on his own and becomes an overnight success. Then, evincing real acumen, he sells his trendy innovation in the nick of time.
  5. Know your employees’ limits.
    (Episode: “Squid on Strike”) Looking to cut costs, Mr. Krabs docks workers for such infractions as “breathing” and “existing.” When SpongeBob and Squidward protest, they’re fired, spurring them to “dismantle the establishment” (a goal SpongeBob takes literally).

Discussion Guide

Interested in further exploring some of the ideas and issues in this article? Consider starting a Fast Company reading group. Here are some possible conversation catalysts:

Despite Nickolodeon’s best efforts, Lucas Conley still revealed the leadership of the animated world’s top sponge. What other fictional characters displayed consistent leadership qualities — or flaws? Examples to consider are Homer Simpson, Jeb Bartlett, Alex P. Keaton, and Jerry Seinfeld.