Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Leadership and Success according to Lightning McQueen

We recently took our kids to see the latest installment of Disney/Pixar's Cars franchise, Cars 3. We don't usually splurge on a new release at the theater but if you know our little guy, you'd understand why we made an exception for this one. Overall I have to say this was a great movie and hats off to Disney/Pixar for telling a great story. This is one that we'll pick up for our family when its available, and I'm sure it will be played many times.
As we walked away from the theater I was really struck by how much one can learn about leadership and true success from this kids movie. Now if you haven't seen Cars 3 yet, I'd encourage you stop right here, go see it, and come back because I'm going to roll out some major spoilers here. If you've seen it, or you're OK with knowing the plot line of a kids movie read on.

If you don't change, you have a shelf life

The movie begins with montage of Lightning McQueen still dominating the Piston Cup circuit. He's at the top of his game, everyone is cheering him on, everyone wants to be with him. He's made it to the top and he's going to stay there. That is until one day, a new racer suddenly comes flying up from behind and wins the race. Lighting can't believe it but he keeps racing. It turns out their is a new batch of rookies coming up who are younger, stronger and... cooler. The fans begin to switch allegiance to these cool young winners and one by one Lightning's peers are pushed into retirement, with Lightening sure to follow. Lightning had just kept doing what he had always done and as long as it was working he didn't need to evaluate or improve himself.

Don't let the past keep you from adapting to present realities

The trouble was he kept doing things the way he had always done them. Then one day, the unthinkable happens, a rookies beats him. It is but the first of a string of losses to the newer, younger cars. Lightning keeps pushing himself, insistent that he'll get back on top. He won't change his ways, even as his peers are retired one by one. It isn't until he crashes and burns does he even inquire as to what's new. The young racers it turns out, train hard and make use of the latest technology and methods. These new racers are such a disruption to the status quo that no matter how skilled or experienced the older racers are they just can't keep up.

Even when he is given the chance to train like the young racers he messes up. He lacks the discipline and humility to try things a new way. He refuses to put in the work and to adapt, he continues to live off of his past successes. Out of frustration he tries to keep doing things his own way, ignoring the advice of those trying to help him and he ends up in a pretty mucky mess.

Don't chase after the new and forgo the wisdom of the past

Finally, Lightning comes to his senses after a very eventful race, and realizes that the only way he made it as a race was learning from his old and wise mentor, Doc. With Doc no longer around, Lightning sets off to find Doc's old mentor, Smokey. He figures that if he learned as much as he did from Doc, he should seek out the wisdom of the one Doc learned from.

Sure enough, in a backwoods town he finds Doc's old pit chief, Smokey, and the old racers that Doc ran with. Smokey tells Lightning, he will never be faster, but he can be smarter. It takes hard work and discipline and some techniques that both Lightning and his new trainer question, but he sticks with it. He trains hard and gets to his last race and in an interesting twist its one of the moves learned from these old guys that wins the day.

Your greatest moments aren't when you're winning but when you're helping others win

I believe one of the greatest parts of this movie is when Smokey is telling Lightning about the letters Doc used to write him. Smokey tells Lightning that in spite of all of the success Doc had in his own career, his best days were the ones when Lightning was winning. He had come to understand that his greatest joy was not in his own success but in helping someone else be their best. Lightning comes to realize this himself when he puts Cruz into the race with the line "It's my last chance to give you your first chance!" Lightning sets aside his own chance at victory and glory to watch someone else, who he saw the potential in, step up and show what they could do.
There is a great lesson to be had here, one of humility and recognizing that the time comes when we have to step aside. The choice to use one's "last chance to give you a first chance" is hard to make. The choice to step out of the spotlight so someone else can step in is risky. They might make a mistake, they might fail but most of all, you have to give up control. An amazing thing happens in the movie, that often happens in life, when one stops being the star and starts becoming the coach and cheerleader, when the mission and the team comes before personal glory, both win.

So look around you and see who you can give a chance, who you can cheer on and don't forget to be adapting in light of both nee development and past wisdom.

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