Bullet time. Red pill, blue pill. Simulation vs. reality. The Matrix series was a cultural phenomenon in the late ’90s and early ’00s. It’s the story of Neo, a hacker who discovers that the world around him is a simulation created by machines to enslave humanity. With the help of others, Neo frees his mind and leads a fight against the system. The movies are full of metaphors and lessons about society as well as lessons on leadership.
It’s time to plug into the system and pull out some leadership lessons!
Seek alternate realities
One of the main themes of the film is the contrast between the false reality of the Matrix and the harsh truth of the real world. Morpheus challenges Neo to question his assumptions and beliefs and offers him a choice: to take the blue pill and remain ignorant or to take the red pill and see the truth. is the truth any less true for those still trapped in the matrix?
You may ask yourself, “How can these people believe what they believe when the truth is so obvious?” Perception is reality. A person that is all in on misinformed data, and solidifies the perception by isolating themselves to only include others who share the same view, doesn’t view themselves as wrong.
As a leader, you need to be willing to seek and accept alternative views of reality or the situation at hand, even if they are painful or uncomfortable. Be curious, open-minded, and courageous to explore different perspectives and possibilities. A well-rounded leader challenges their own perception (reality) at times to check themselves, “Is this the right take, or am I missing something that would make me more informed?”
There is no spoon
When Neo visits the Oracle, he encounters a young boy who appears to have the telekinetic ability to bend spoons with his mind. The boy tells him: “Do not try and bend the spoon. That’s impossible. Instead… only try to realize the truth… There is no spoon… Then you’ll see that it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself.”
The kid is going deep on Neo!
This is a metaphor for how Neo can overcome the limitations of the Matrix by changing his perception and mindset. Too often, leaders hear the phrases, “That’s impossible,” or “This is not going to work.” Very few things are impossible to accomplish in leadership if we don’t look at challenges as strictly black or white or right and wrong.
As a leader work to become flexible, adaptable, and creative in facing challenges and opportunities. Look for small wins instead of big wins if needed, “Well if we can’t do this, then what can we do to move forward?”
Overcome imposter syndrome
Throughout the film, Neo is presented with the idea that he is “The One”, a prophesied savior who can end the war between humans and machines. However, he struggles with self-doubt and skepticism; he doesn’t feel special. It’s not until he finally accepts his role that he is able to release his full potential.
Imposter syndrome can feel like you are stuck in your version of the matrix with no hope of getting out of it. It’s the deep-rooted feeling that you are not good enough, not qualified enough, or not worthy of leading or owning a particular thing. Not only are there 5 types of imposter syndrome (PTB 224) but the environment that you are in and the connections that you make also heavily influence this area.
Just like Neo, you can break free and reach your fullest potential as well. Here are some tips to begin working through imposter syndrome.
Talk it out with someone. Imposter Syndrome loves to live in isolation inside yourself. Talk out your feelings and thoughts with a trusted friend, advisor, or mentor.
Be kind to yourself. I have seen some of the kindest people beat themselves up for their perceived shortcomings. Give yourself the same forgiveness that you give others and be kind to yourself. Let someone besides yourself be your worst critic.
Understand that your thoughts and situation are not unique. Remember when you run into a bout of doubt that others are likely going through the same. Know that it’s not just you and that it’s temporary then step up and do well.
Learn from failure. To our Baton Carriers that are perfectionists; It’s okay to fail. You need to fail to keep learning and growing. Use failure as a learning opportunity and move on. Don’t dwell on failure for failure’s sake.
Go small. Focus on the smaller tasks and the accomplishments that come along with them instead of focusing on the larger issue. It can help you stay focused in a positive direction.
Challenge yourself. Take another look at how you perceive a particular topic, a body of work, or even other people. Adapt and be nimble as you make things that make the impossible, actually quite possible. Never forget, you are not an imposter. You were put into your role for a reason, and you are worthy and capable of stepping up to the challenge.
Seinfeld is a great comedy show from the 90s that is known for its observational humor and the absurd situations that the group of four friends find themselves in. The show was hugely popular when it first aired and today finds itself in a new renaissance thanks to the popularity of streaming.
What leadership lessons can be learned from a show that claims itself to be a show about nothing and includes amazing leadership quotes like, “It’s not a lie if you (yourself) believe it.”
Be confident and own who you are
Jerry Seinfeld, the main character and stand-up comedian, is often seen as the voice of reason and sanity among his friends. He is there to be a listening ear and they bust through his apartment door unannounced. He’s also confident and authentic in his style and personality; he’s not pretending to be someone he is not.
Jerry reminds us that we need to be comfortable in our own skin. Avoid the trap of trying to change who you are to gain the affection and attention of others. It’s a facade that is not easy to keep up and you’ll only find yourself less happy and fulfilled as a result. Being confident in yourself also gives you the space to express your opinions and insight, which Jerry was certainly an expert at.
Learn from the mistakes that you make
George Costanza, Jerry’s best friend is…… a loser. Some of the most memorable moments of the show center around George and how disastrous he is in life and the ability to make the right choice. George is insecure, dishonest, lazy, and selfish, and sabotages himself more than anyone he encounters. If there is something positive to be said about George, it’s that he is resilient. He is willing to try new things, experiment with different strategies, and learn from his mistakes and failures. (Sometimes just to turn around and make another new mistake.)
Everybody makes mistakes, hopefully, a little less than George, but it’s a part of our regular path to personal and professional growth. Be open to feedback, criticism, and change, and use them as opportunities for your own growth and improvement. Mistakes hold value too if you are willing to take the lessons that they teach. As you reflect on a recent mistake, what is the lesson learned and how could you be resourceful to come to a different conclusion the next time the situation presents itself?
Keep things in perspective and enjoy the funny things in life
Elaine Benes, Jerry’s ex-girlfriend, and friend, is a smart, independent, and successful woman. She is also incredibly witty, sarcastic, and humorous, often making fun of herself and others. She doesn’t take herself or life too seriously and knows how to have fun and enjoy the moment. Perhaps the most memorable example of this is the famous Elanie Dance where she dances so horribly that George describes it as a “full body dry heave set to music.”
Having the right perspective, and understanding of the larger context is important in both leadership and life, so you don’t overreact or underreact to everyday challenges. Be willing to laugh at yourself and the situation that you might find yourself in. For more information on this pairing, check out Humor (PTB 44) and Finding Perspective (PTB 111).
Sometimes you have to deal with the weirdos
Cosmos Kramer. What a name and character. He always came bursting through Jerry’s door like an out-of-control washing machine shaking and bouncing from an uneven load of laundry. Kramer was full-on weird, but often stole the scenes that he was in and somehow became a friend in Jerry’s small inner circle. Jerry didn’t have much of a choice but to deal with and interact with Kramer. Even if he kept the apartment locked at all times, Kramer lived across the hall, so no doubt he would still have run-ins and interactions with him.
It is guaranteed that you are going to have people that you would consider weird and out there come across your path, both at work and in your personal life. Regardless of the situation, treat them with the respect and friendliness that you give to others. Even though Jerry could have been dismissive and rude to Kramer, he chose to listen to him and go along with his crazy line of thoughts. In the real world, you may be making a mighty impact on the other person, because there is a chance that you are the only one that shows them any respect and attention at all.
Jerry’s circle of friends is an unlikely group that found themselves together. Be true to yourself, embrace and own your mistakes, keep it in perspective, and care for the weirdos in your life. You’ll be a better leader and friend as a result.
A box of rocks may not look like a source of inspiration for your own leadership journey, but the long journey that those rocks took in order to be made can offer us a reminder of our own continued growth.
Today we are going to find leadership in the three main types of rocks and learn how our own leadership is molded and formed just like the rocks of the Earth.
Leadership in Sedimentary Rocks
Formed from layers of sand, silt, dead plants, and animal skeletons.
A little bit of this and a little bit of that; layers all together are what make up a sedimentary rock. It starts as one thing, (Clay, sand, other rock) and is transformed as more layers and pressure are added on top of it.
It’s easy as you reflect on your own leadership style to see the correlation to sedimentary rock. You’re probably a little piece of several prior leaders and mentors that you have had over your life. As long as you stay open to be a continual learner and continue to grow your experiences with others, you have a consistent flow of new layers to add to your leadership for your entire life.
It’s fascinating to think about how layers in leadership from your past help to take on new layers in the present. Think about your interaction with your current boss and team and reflect back on how all your previous leaders influence who you interact with your current people. One day your current team will be another layer as you interact with a totally different team and supervisor.
Leadership in Igneous Rock
Formed from melted rock deep in the earth.
Change, change, change is the name of the game when it comes to igneous rocks. This type of rock typically starts off as a liquid because it’s so hot and then cools to form a new rock. Think lava flows and how they turn into rock fields.
Leadership is about embracing change. You are constantly leading yourself and perhaps a team through constant change, and there are going to be times when you’ll need to meltdown aspects of your leadership so that you can rebuild yourself in a stronger and more relevant way.
For many new leaders going from doing to leading is an igneous moment in your personal leadership. You’ve got to let go of many things that you may have enjoyed doing in the past in order to lead your team well. What do you need to melt down and let go of in order to grow? Be brave and courageous to take those steps in growth in your personal and professional life.
Leadership in Metamorphic Rock
Formed from other rocks that are changed by heat pressure.
Metamorphic rocks start as any of the three types of rocks and are changed again due to extreme pressure and heat. As you continue in your leadership journey, you’ll encounter metamorphic junctures that will be extremely challenging. Think of these events as tentpole moments that fundamentally change your leadership once you make it through them.
As I reflect back on my own journey so far, my metamorphic moments are a mix of loss, setbacks, but also great things like promotions, and life changes. I was fundamentally changed from the loss of my mentor and father figure, two instances of employees suddenly passing away and other instances of personal and professional grief. I also had to fundamentally change my leadership as my opportunity to lead in a larger way grew.
What have been some of your metamorphic moments? Are you going through one right now? Know that those moments are just that……moments. If you handle the pressure and the heat in a healthy way you can come out with something beautiful on the other side. Marble is a great example of what can come out of the metamorphic process.
It may not seem like it, but rocks are ever-changing. Continue to add layers of influence and perspective to your leadership. Melt away things that are holding you back and embrace those heated and high-pressure moments that will make your leadership stronger as a result.
Chess is a game that I can honestly say, that I’m ok at but would not do well against a seasoned player. I do love the concept of chess though. Utilizing the same starting resources with the winner being determined by strategic planning and ability to adapt to their opponent.
We can find leadership in chess in a few different ways that wrap around strategic thinking.
You need to understand everyone’s role
The first step in learning how to play chess is to understand the roles of all the pieces (how they move, what they should do, priority, etc) so that you can actually begin to play the game.
The same has to happen with your team in order to be effective in your job. Yes, it’s important to understand the literal job that they sit in and what that role encompasses on the team, but it’s just as important to get to know the person to understand what unique talents and abilities that they bring to the table.
Knowing just about the role on the team without the personal context is like knowing only half of what each piece does. Can you still win? Sure, with easier challenges and opponents. You are going to be quickly taken out of a game though if you go in this way against a seasoned player.
Learn your people’s passions, talents, and motivators to take their role on the team over the top. They can help you move your strategy in a way that you may not even realize right now.
The best always think ahead
Good chess players are playing their turn, but they are thinking about several moves ahead. Playing chess can help you be a great strategic planner.
I use the chessboard analogy quite a bit when teaching leaders about being strategic when they think about the future of their talent and the strategy of the team and organization.
The idea is that you start with a hypothetical that is rooted in the real world and then you begin to play out how you would react and what your next steps would be.
For talent, we typically start with the hypothetical sudden opening in a key role. Who is the next person? What happens if that option doesn’t work out? Who is the backfill for the new role? Who is the backfill’s backfill? You can quickly find out where your strengths and opportunities are with the current and future strength of your team when you run scenarios like this.
For your business or goals, it’s a similar concept. Start throwing what-ifs into your work routine that are grounded in reality and probability. They can be rooted in business goals or maybe more soft skills in nature. If the business plan doesn’t take off like planned then what? How do I lead my people if someone were to, unfortunately, pass from COVID?
Running these with yourself and your team on occasion is always a worthwhile time investment. We actually call this type of exercise chessboard when we do it with other leaders.
Things change and you have to adapt
Even the best-laid plans don’t always work out like they were planned to. Life happens! In chess, you may have to change your strategic plan and begin reacting and changing your plan based on an unexpected move from the other side that just occurred.
Help your team see the changes before they occur and equip them to communicate their thoughts to you and the team as they occur. Some of the best companies in the US to adapt early to COVID saw what was happening in Asia and Europe and got ahead by beginning to change plans before it hit them. You’ll need to have a high degree of trust and respect built up between you and your people in order to be great here. They need to understand that you will value and take to heart their guidance and you need to trust they are thinking through things with the right mindset and have the right level of perspective for the issue at hand.
On a smaller scale, think about how you react to the smaller changes that happen to you on a regular basis? Does it wreck your day or stop productivity, or do you make a quick plan, adapt, and move on?
Handle change, both big and small, well to keep your plan moving forward.
Just as in chess, you’ll be a better leader when you understand what challenges you’re up against (The other player) understand your team well (the pieces) that execute on your plan well while being flexible to adapt along the way.
“Would I rather be feared or loved? Easy. Both. I want people to be afraid of how much they love me.” -Micheal Scott
The Office continues to be a hit show years after the conclusion of the series. It’s both absurd and totally relatable. You’ve probably seen a little (or a lot) of Micheal in your supervisor and the likely experienced workplace drama that mimics the show to at least some degree. For leaders, you may see those cringe moments that Micheal has and can see yourself in those situations. Maybe it’s not to the extreme that he often goes to, but relatable nonetheless.
As bad of a boss that Miachel was, we can learn a thing or two about leadership from him, to help us be more effective when working with others.
Michael has a heart for his people
One of the most likable aspects of Michael’s character is how much he loves his team (except for Toby in HR). His misguided antics are often rooted in trying to save his people’s jobs, to do something to motivate his team, or to celebrate personal and professional success.
What are you willing to do for your team? What would you sacrifice and what length would you go to take care of them? to take that challenge further ask the same question about each individual that you work with.
A trusting and empowering leader is willing to put some risk on the line as well as their personal reputation in order for someone else to have a chance to succeed. Check your comfortability in letting others have the spotlight and understand where your personal boundaries are and how far your ego extends. You likely have room to further push for growth in this area.
Michael celebrated the success of others
We’ve talked at length in the past about the importance of celebrating success (ep 143) and having fun with your team (ep 120, 192). Lee Cockerell, retired EVP of Disney World talked about the idea of sharing appreciation, respect, and encouragement on ep 200. He and I have shared examples of cheap and imaginative ways that you can have fun and celebrate others.
Micheal and the office staff certainly lean into this idea. The Dundies are cheap annual awards that he would give out every year like the Oscars. People in the real world like them so n=mcuh that they by replicas and hand them out to others. The team also had a fun day with their own office Office Olympics. The medals were made out of paperclips and yogurt tins. Several people cherished their cheaply made medals because it held sentimental value to them.
I love formal recognition programs. They certainly have their place in highlighting someone’s effort and impact. I think there is a large opportunity to recognize others in a more informal, silly yet sincere way as well. Whether it’s the Dundees, Lee’s green hot sauce, or my All That and a Bag of Chips Award, do something different to recognize others.
Michael was available to his people and there when they needed him
There are many examples of Micheal being there for his people and having a personal investment in both their personal and professional endeavors. Pam had a high personal passion for art and got into a local art show. When she invited the office to the event, no one showed outside of her boyfriend who was very critical of the work. Michael shows up at the last moment and is truly impressed by her work. He buys her small painting of their office building and puts it on display outside of his personal office for the remainder of the show.
How do you think Pam felt about her leader after that showing of compassion, care, and authenticity?
Don’t’ let the hustle and bustle of the day or the fact that you aren’t physically with someone on a daily basis hold you back from being authentic and available to others. Check-in with your people on a consistent basis so that there is a consistent flow of communication to fill in the questions and gaps that people may have surrounding their work and expectations. Be sure to connect on a personal level as well. Instead of asking “How are you?” start the conversation off with a follow-up to something personal that was previously shared.
You will gain a lot of ground in garnering trust, respect, and admiration from your people when you show your investment in them on a personal level.
Michael Scott is certainly an over-the-top leader on The Office. Peel away the craziness and you’ll see a person that cares for others, know the power of celebrating wins and