By now you have probably noted that I love to use metaphors from movies to illustrate important lessons of leadership. Well not to disappoint here is another “animated” lesson.
One of my favorite animated movies is Shrek. I love the music video at the end, the wonderful humorous exchanges between Eddie Murphy and Mike Myers and one powerfully metaphoric scene.
Donkey has been harassing Shrek for some time at the start of their noble quest to slay the dragon and rescue Princess Fiona from the fiery keep. In one conversation Shrek is trying to explain to Donkey what it is like to be an Ogre. “Like an onion, Ogres have layers”
Shrek: Ogres are like onions.
Donkey: They stink?
Donkey: They make you cry.
Shrek: NO! LAYERS! Onions have layers. OGRES have layers. Onions have layers... you get it. We both have layers.
Donkey: Oh, you both have layers. You know, not everybody likes onions.
These layers are a not so subtle metaphor to the way we live our lives.
Leader Know Thyself
Warren Bennis in his seminal book On Becoming a Leader states that a leader must first know himself. To do this requires that we look in the mirror and see what is truly there. This is not what we see initially, we see what we choose to. We see our self perception, our story of who we are. The story is a mixture of our experiences, prejudices, fears, joys, loves, all the stories of our youth. Inevitably this self perception is a layer of our own personal onion. To know ourselves we must peel this back and see what lies within. As we get to the core we will find the layers more and more tender, more and more vulnerable. You see the outer layers are built up toughened to protect us from the pain and disappointment that comes our way. They are like a skin of leather, the back of a crocodile. We must protect ourselves.
I am not here to say peel it all away and expose yourself to the trauma of life. Frankly that would be stupid. Much of the protections we use are there for a valid reason. Rather, I argue that spending time exploring who you are at the most intimate of levels is a life changing process. It allows you to see yourself for who you truly are. It helps you to reveal the shadow beliefs that you harbor, the ones that cause you to react in ways that seem unpredictable and surprising at the time. Kevin Cashman’s book Leadership from the Inside Out describes the process of achieving personal mastery. It contains a wonderful set of tools that can guide a would be leader through this process of self discovery.
What resides in the subconscious mind has a profound effect on our conscious behaviors. Trouble is we do not see it or know it. Cashman challenges his reader to attain a state of meditation that will allow you to connect more directly to your subconscious mind. When I did this I found the revelation profound. I was able to see the link between many of my less preferred behaviors and who I was at my core. Armed with this knowledge I was able to begin to accept who I was and look at each behavior objectively for the first time. I chose to change some, accept others and reinforce yet others. Simply, this process made me whole, more authentic.
WIFM Everyone’s favorite radio station, what’s in it for me?!
Why is this so important? It is more than the derailing behaviors that make this journey a necessity. It is the fact that our leadership angst comes from deep within us. To attempt to lead without understanding why you want to lacks integrity and authenticity. There is nothing more powerful than a leader who has faced the fear and pain that resides within and can be at peace with who they are. In fact they can use their own story to engage followers in a noble quest. I am convinced that we all want authenticity in others, especially our leaders. I often think that our cultures fascination with the fall of the debutantes is more about finding out who they are authentically than gawking at their misdeeds. Although voyeurism is alive and well it is a vice that does not honor our noble nature.
This is why this journey is so important; our followers need to know that they are following someone they can trust someone they can identify with someone they can emulate. They deserve to know who they are following.