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Leadership Lessons from Toy Story 4

Leadership Lessons from Toy Story 4

Growing up I was not a fan of the sequel. It seemed that the second story was never as fantastic as the first. However, over time movie studios have learned the art of the franchise. Using television or comic books as a template, they have learned that the art of storytelling doesn’t change, but without new ideas and challenges characters aren’t dynamic enough to capture the attention of audiences. But if you connect old, loved characters to new challenges that fit the original audience grown up a little, you can draw a story out for a long time.

Pixar clearly thought of this as they created Toy Story 4. While you still have most of the same characters, the challenges they face are more like those of their fans, who are now 24 years older. While new characters experience the challenges of younger audiences. In this particular film, I found tremendous leadership lessons for older leaders struggling to pass the mantle to new younger leaders.

To catch you up, in case you have not been following this series. About 2 months ago I spent a day at the movies gaining valuable leadership and relationship lessons. I will try not to bring too many spoilers, but honestly the movies are aging pretty quickly, so I’ll do my best.

Passing the mantle is hard. You must give up status, influence, purpose, dreams, and realize that You are no longer the best person to fulfill the work you once believed you were called to for life. It gets even harder when you look at the new leader and you cannot understand why anyone would ever choose to put them in charge. Still, they have the influence you once had and they are everyone’s new favorite toy. What do you do?

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Lesson 1: The mission is bigger than the leader.

In the Toy Story franchise the mission of the toys has always been to make their kid happy. When Woody realizes he is not the one who Bonnie turns to for comfort anymore, he is thrown. But he puts the mission ahead of his own struggles and tries to figure out how to keep his kid happy, no matter the cost to himself. 

Whether you lead a business you started from the ground up, or you have been leading an organization to new heights, a time comes when every leader must release the reins to new leadership. You cannot live forever, and if you truly believe in the mission you set out to achieve, you will need it to continue after you are gone. 

The dream, of course, is to mold a new leader in your own image. The problem is a new generation needs a new kind of leader. You have to let the new generation tell you what the new leader should look like. Then you need to get on board with helping that leader fulfill the mission to which you both were all called.

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Lesson 2: They think differently. So learn to speak their language.

Often times young leaders don’t even seem to speak the same language you do. Have you read a text recently. Half to “text” is actually pictures. We are returning to hieroglyphics... and it’s working.

The generations following you understand things you don’t understand about the use of technology, and the need for larger purpose. They are different. Whether it is a good or bad difference is yet to be seen, but you don’t get to decide that. History will when their time has passed.

What you can decide is that you want to keep pushing for the fulfillment of a great mission. To do that you need to be willing to learn the language of a new generation. You need to lead with enough humility to put your way aside long enough to be able to communicate to new leaders their way.

What you may discover is that in sacrificing your way, you actually gain influence instead of losing it.

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Lesson 3: A change of season does not mean a loss of purpose.

I have a coach and leader I follow, who made some bad financial decisions as a middle aged man that would have left him in bankruptcy if he did not have convictions that he would not file. It took until he was fifty-four years old to get back to zero. 

Many might have believed their effective life was over and thrown in the towel on any real future. Instead this man started teaching the lessons he had learned from his mistakes to his Sunday School class. Now at 70+ years of age, he has a lifestyle that is free from financial strain, and he is healthier than most people 15 years younger than him.  

He spends his time trying to help others discover work they love, and how to live a fulfilled life.

Seasons change, the way you live out our calling may change, but your purpose is not kept in a role, it is found in your heart. When it is time to move on, go find another purpose to pursue.

Leaving a great position to new leadership is an open door to a new adventure. Don’t buy the lie that a change of season means a loss of purpose. Instead leave the story you have been in and find a new adventure to pursue.

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Lesson 4: Everyone is stronger with others. Don’t exit alone.

One struggle I have seen too many leaders face when they exit their position is loneliness. Far too often as we age we find ourselves without any friends. One of the struggles of many leaders is they aren’t sure who they will talk to if they don’t go to their job every day.

So build healthy relationships now. Learn how to grow your ability to create, build, and sustain a thriving life with others. In my last book 7 Daily Choices, I used a leadership fable to show people the seven choices that keep our relationships growing and alive. At the Relationship Black Belt Academy we continue to train leaders in these skills and tactics.

By learning the Relational Arts, you won’t have to fear moving on, because you will know how to build new friendships and improve old ones. As you get older you will always find new friends to lean on. 

Your life is measured in relationships so make yours count, and choose relationship today.

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