Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Leadership lessons from unusual places: Disney's Mulan

Continuing my recap from last week's Government IT Symposium, I wanted to share a few insights from my presentation about "leadership lessons from unusual places."

One other resource I shared was Disney's Mulan. This is an entertaining animated feature about one woman's brave decision and personal journey to protect her father and—at the same time—save China from the invading Shan Yu. It really is a wonderful film and I don't want to distract from the message of the movie or the performance of the actors.

But when I watched Mulan, I immediately realized the leadership qualities of Shan Yu. It turns out that Shan Yu is very adept at coaching and mentoring. You can see this demonstrated in several moments throughout the film, whenever he interacts with his warriors. This scene is particularly instructive:



Watch that clip carefully and you'll learn a few tips on coaching from Master Shan Yu.

Note how Shan Yu uses this opportune moment to coach his staff. He finds a doll, and asks his team leads for what they can learn by examining the doll. They each provide their own insight that fills in a larger picture: the doll comes from a village high in the mountains, and the Imperial cannon brigade is there too.

As the viewer, we don't know whether or not Shan Yu knew this ahead of time. If he does, Shan Yu is careful not to insert his own point of view before asking the opinions of his team. He simply asks, "What do you see?" and lets others fill in the blanks.

Shan Yu uses this "coaching moment" to engage his team. His comments are brief, memorable, but not overpowering. Shan Yu is able to offer his own opinion (and decision to return the doll) without discounting the opinions of his team leads. From what we see in the movie, I think we can assume Shan Yu has taken advantage of other coaching moments to help his future leaders develop.

I like to refer to these "coaching moments" as "coaching buttons." These are the moments before and after a meeting when you find yourself chatting with one other person on your team. Or that moment in an elevator when it's just you and a staff member. Take these moments as gifts, and leverage them to do coaching. "Coaching buttons" are wonderful conversational gifts. The "coaching button" might only cover one question without an opportunity for follow-up questions to delve deeper. But if you can find frequent opportunities for several "buttons", I find it can be helpful.

Be like Shan Yu. Use these moments wisely and turn them into coaching opportunities.

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