The newly released Disney movie "Maleficent" is another must see - yes, even for you who don't have young kids. Actually, the beautiful symbolism of the movie might be totally lost on children - this is a movie for grownups to enjoy. Watch the trailer below.
Warning: Spoiler alert - if you don't want to know anything about the movie yet, go watch it first, then come back to this blog. I won't tell anyone the ending, though.
In this new take on the classic tale of Sleeping Beauty, Maleficent was once a beautiful fairy who loved flying over her beloved moors. She also loved Stephen, whom she had met as a boy. Young Stephen, however, had powerful ambitions. He wanted to become king. When the dying king promised the crown to whomever slayed "the winged creature" Stephen took his chances. He attracted Maleficent to his side, pretended to love her, and clipped her wings. Thus, when Maleficent issued her powerful curse on Stephen's child, she was acting out of revenge and bitter grief.
Aurora grew up to become a sweet teenager, beloved by all. Watch the clip below, when Aurora tells Maleficent how she sees her.
I won't say more so as not to spoil the movie experience for anyone who hasn't seen it yet. Instead, I'll address the "two Maleficents": The evil and powerful fairy whom everyone fears and the loving protector Aurora sees. Who is the "real" Maleficent? The villain or the hero?
Arguably, both - and there lies the beauty of the movie. Maleficent reminds us that leaders are not all good or all evil. Instead, leaders could be molded by love and grief, support and hostility, excitement and disappointment.
This "human quality" of leaders has three interesting implications.
First, no amount of "development" will trump the complexity of human nature. The same leader could be a hero to some and a villain to others. Good and evil may lie "on the eye of the beholder."
Second, the good of a leader may depend - at least in part - on others. Like young Aurora, some followers may have the power to transform villains into heroes.
Are you planning a leadership development process for your organization? Then consider this. Maleficent did not become a better leader after completing a 360 assessment or participating in a leadership training workshop. She did not hire an executive coach. She simply had the gift of a follower who loved her.
Remember the followers. They are leaders too.
I guess it comes with the territory. If you teach leadership, conduct research on leadership development, and "breathe" leadership materials, you start seeing beautiful examples of leadership everywhere. So today I thought I'd start a new "theme" for my blog: I will bring in 100 examples of great leadership from various movies or TV shows.
My first choice is "Dead Poet Society" - a brilliant 1989 Peter Weir movie with Robin Williams, Robert Sean Leonard, and Ethan Hawke. If you haven't seen this movie, you should rush to rent it (or better still, purchase it for your library - this one is a keeper!)
Here is a brief synopsis: John Keating (Robin Williams) is a charismatic teacher in an all-boys school. Keating encourages the boys to live fully, enjoy literature and art, make their lives extraordinary. Watch as he tells the boys to "seize the day":
Mr. Keating's methods are unusual - for instance, in order to inspire the boys to use a different perspective, he tells them to step on his table.
Yes, Mr. Keating is an inspiring "once in a lifetime" leader - but he's not the one I pick as my first leadership example. After all, not everyone can be that exciting, original, or simply brilliant. Mr. Keating is one of a kind.
I invite you to meet a different kind of leader. This person does not need extraordinary gifts or charisma. All he or she needs is courage. I'm talking about Todd Anderson (Ethan Hawke), a shy young boy who would probably be overlooked by any high-po seeker or recruiter.
Returning to the story: Ultimately, Mr. Keating is "too much" for the school establishment - too strong, too original, too out of the box. The school administration uses him as a scapegoat and fires him.
In this final scene, Todd Anderson leads his classmates in a final goodbye to honor his teacher. Watch as Anderson "grabs" his leadership moment.
In The Practice of Adaptive Leadership, Ronald Heifetz explains that leadership is not who you are - it's what you do. And leadership, Heifetz continues, is not even what you do all the time. It's what you do when you must motivate people too confront change.
Some people (Mr. Keating, perhaps) find leadership natural. They grab it as easily as they breathe. These people lead because people naturally look up to them, follow their steps, ask for inspiration.
That's great - we need these folks. But these are not the only people we need. We also need those of us who are not brilliant, natural leaders. We need us to seize the day, grab the moment. The moment to make lives extraordinary. Not our own, really - but others'.
We have a lot to learn from Todd Anderson.
During the last few weeks, I have focused my R&D efforts on a new program on Innovative Leadership. Developing this program has been an interesting ride, as I tried to "connect the dots" between topics such as systems thinking, adaptive leadership, innovation, creativity, and personality. I know - quite a smorgasbord. In fact, one of the toughest parts of the development process has been to use such complexity to build a rich program - but then to simplify the content for best possible results.
Here are a few "lessons learned' from this process:
In other words: Building an "innovative organization" is hardly possible if one only focuses on "individual creativity" workshops. These workshops, however, can still be useful. For instance, we're including in ours a review of a participant's unique path to creativity - his or her talents, personality traits, values, and expertise. One could also use workshops to support the development of innovation related competencies such as relationship building, information sharing, and making connections.
The last competency - making connections - brings me back to the main topic of this blog. It's impossible to be efficient if we constantly branch out of our areas of expertise. Thing is - making connections is at the heart of innovation. Amazing ideas come from the "odd bridges" that we build between our fields and others', between the immediate, the practical, and the "I'm not sure how on earth I'll use this" pieces of information.
So here are two questions to readers of this blog:
1. How much time do you dedicate to "impractical" or "out of your area of expertise" topics?
2. Once you "branch out" into different areas, how do you then bring yourself back and... make it simple?
(1) de Sousa, F., Pellissier, R., & Monteiro, I. (2012). Creativity, innovation, and collaborative organizations. International Journal Of Organizational Innovation, 5(1), 26-64.
About the Author
Dr. Cris Wildermuth is an Assistant Professor at Drake University, where she coordinates and teaches at the Master of Science in Leadership Development.