Be Excellent to Each Other: Leadership Lessons from Bill & Ted

Zach Hughes
Feb 15 · 5 min read
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, 1989

30 years ago this week, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure was released in theaters. For the subsequent 10 years or so, every kid in America adopted the language, saying whoa, dude, excellent, bodacious, bogus, triumphant, and other variants. While this classic movie is mostly just silly nostalgia, I thought I’d take this opportunity to draw some important leadership lessons from it.

Caesar is a salad dressing dude

Bill & Ted started off the film in a dire situation. The only thing they were able to learn all year in history class is that Caesar is a salad dressing dude. Because of that, Ted’s dad is about to send him to military school, which sounds most egregious.

Becoming a great leader is, at times, a non-resplendent undertaking. You can feel overwhelmed and ill-equipped for the task. Even if you’ve been at it a while, you can experience set backs that make you feel like you’ve learned as much as Bill & Ted in history class.

So, what do you do about it? Bill & Ted spent time with historical figures to learn history. You can do likewise by spending quality time with leaders you respect. Share your experiences and listen. Mentorship doesn’t need to be formal and regular. Sometimes, all you need is a timely conversation with someone who understands.

Strange things are afoot at the Circle-K

Bill & Ted are not only lousy historians, they are also heinous musicians. If Ted goes to military school, then Bill & Ted’s band, Wyld Stallyns, will never go onto bring peace and harmony to the planet through their music. That’s such a big deal, that Rufus travels 700 years back in time to give Bill & Ted a hand.

Similarly, you may feel like your contribution as a leader is insignificant. What if you don’t get better? What if you fail as a leader? What if you quit because it’s hard and you don’t like the politics? You may feel like it doesn’t really matter, but it does.

The world needs you. Perhaps you cannot see it yet, because you sound like Wyld Stallyns, but what if you are destined to become one of the most accomplished technology leaders in the world? Even if you don’t have those ambitions, think of your team. They rely on you to create the environment so they can do their best work. Without you, your whole team fails. It’s not just about you.

Listen to your future self

Bill & Ted are apprehensive to follow Rufus into the bodacious telephone booth time machine. So Bill & Ted from the future, having already completed most of their excellent adventure, convince present-day Bill & Ted to proceed.

Unfortunately, even after 30 years, we still don’t yet have the technology to talk to our future selves, but we can think that way. In leadership, we often think short-term. We get through the day. We get to the bottom of our inbox. We finish the sprint. We ship the code. We make our quarterly metrics. We meet the budget.

All of that is short-term thinking. We need to think 3, 5, and 10 years out to develop the strategies and make progress against those strategies to help our future selves. We need to take the steps today that will contribute toward the legacy we want to leave when we retire. We need to raise up the next generation of leaders around us, so our good work continues on in perpetuity.

Be excellent to each other

“The two great ones,” Bill & Ted spend most of their time traveling in the past, but they make a quick stop in the future to visit the utopian society that they later created. When addressing the future society, Bill confidently states, “be excellent to each other!”

Often times in leadership we are hyper-focused on getting things done. When that happens, relationships suffer, and the culture degrades. Perhaps you have a customer or a co-worker that is acting like Genghis Khan in sporting goods store.

You can create your own utopian society in your company, if you heed Bill’s advice. Be excellent to your teams. Be excellent to your customers. And don’t forget, be excellent to your peers. (We often neglect those relationships the most).

Party on, dudes!

Bill & Ted hang out with Napoleon, So-Crates, Sigmund Freud, Bee-Thoven, Joan of Arc (Noah’s wife), Mr. The Kid, Abraham Lincoln, and others. They bring them on-stage as a part of their final presentation to their class.

Abraham Lincoln finishes the presentation with a modified version of the Gettysburg Address, including “be excellent to each other,” and finally, “party on, dudes!” Even Lincoln likes to have fun.

A big part of what made Bill & Ted’s adventure excellent was the fun they had along the way. Work in corporations can be all-business all the time. Part of being a great leader is making sure your team celebrates and has fun along the way. Seriously, don’t take yourself so seriously. Obviously, Bill & Ted don’t, so you shouldn’t either.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my article drawing leadership lessons from cult-classic time-capsule from the late 1980’s. It would be most triumphant of you to share this article with your stellar co-workers. As I draw this article to a close, I just have one more thing to say:

SAN DIMAS HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL RULES!!

Read this article on my blog site: https://zachonleadership.com/be-excellent-to-each-other-leadership-lessons-from-bill-ted/

Zach Hughes

Written by

Technology Leader at CHS. Passionate about leadership and innovation. Posts are my own.

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