Leslie Knope: My ultimate role model for genuine leadership

Julie Charlestein
4 min readMar 3, 2022


Inspiration in how I run my business — can come from anywhere, or from anyone — real or fictitious. For me, the fictional but almost tangibly genuine character of Parks and Recreation’s Leslie Knope has taught me countless lessons in leadership, dedication, and commitment to achieving goals over seven joy- and laughter-filled seasons of the hit NBC show.

As deputy director of the Parks Department in the imaginary town of Pawnee, Leslie, played by the incredible Amy Poehler, offers a wonderfully relatable role model for leadership both in life and in business. It’s no surprise that Leslie’s leadership qualities continue to shine on, well after the Parks and Rec’s final episode aired seven years ago.

So, as I continue my own journey of inspiration, join me in revisiting the show with my top three leadership lessons from Leslie.

1. Exuberance — Leslie displays her raw ambition and passion to make Pawnee a better place for all its residents with an excitement and exuberant exhilaration that gives her the drive to commit, and to deliver.

Leslie’s work is a constant source of inspiration to her. She does work worth doing and she always, ALWAYS, stands behind her beliefs. As a result, she fights the good fight, both for herself and for the promises she makes others, showing us what dedication to the job looks like. She doesn’t just dream big; she commits to the dream. As she says in a line that I will never forget: “Who cares if they have more money. I have the most valuable currency in America: a blind, stubborn, belief that what I am doing is 100% right!”

Leslie’s invaluable lesson is that a strong leader means showing both yourself and your team the clear direction you want to take and getting them onboard with your vision. Cynicism is easy, but my earnest enthusiasm has always proved a more effective leadership style to rally my troops toward a common goal.

2. Enthusiasm — Some of the tasks Leslie faces are downright ridiculous. But from filling an unexplained sinkhole to commemorating Pawnee’s favorite mini-horse, Li’l Sebastian, she takes every responsibility seriously, and approaches them with buckets of enthusiasm. As a result, she never loses sight of her goals, even in the face of a never ever-ending stream of roadblocks. She does the right thing, not the easy thing. And she steers her team in the right direction.

Furthermore, if someone asks for her help, Leslie will transfer her enthusiasm to that task and always do her best to get the job done. In doing so, she inspires those around her and encourages them to be passionate as well.

Just a few weeks into the pandemic we at Premier Dental had to pivot our business. Leading, like Leslie, with a true passion for what we were doing enabled my team to have the confidence to become my partners in exploring new areas the company had not had to previously consider.

3. Results

From the first episode of the show where she falls into a giant pit in front of a reporter, to the very last, Leslie shows that there is almost nothing that can bring her down. She believes in herself whether she is officiating the wedding of two male penguins or running against the gorgeous Paul Rudd for city council.

Leslie is often challenged by the media, fellow governmental leaders, and other organizations, but she never gives up in her goal for results. She stands her ground. Over and over again. As she tells us, “There’s nothing we can’t do if we work hard, never sleep, and shirk all other responsibilities in our lives.”

While there are indeed other responsibilities (like for example, friends, family and, of course, waffles) that Leslie does and should dedicate time to, her unwavering belief in getting the job done drives her throughout the show. Launching izzo — Premier Dental’s new 4-in-1 oral health system and our first direct-to consumer product — last month similarly showed me how pure belief pays off as a leader: to silence the doubters I had to stay focused on the goal and show those around me that no matter what, we would get it done, together.

Leslie picks her own role models wisely: Eleanor Roosevelt, Nancy Pelosi, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Michelle Obama, to name a few. For me, however, its Leslie herself (the last of the 13 framed photos of women on her office wall) who offers inspiration as a role model of exuberance, enthusiasm, and results.



Julie Charlestein

Fourth-generation CEO & President of Premier Dental. Innovative leader driving inspired solutions. Top 25 Most Influential Women in Dentistry.