I recently went to see the new Pixar movie, Inside Out which was released during the summer. It is fair to say that while my boys aged 7 and 9 enjoyed the movie, it made a greater impression on me. I found myself recommending it to leadership workshop participants as it characterises and depicts our emotional life in a more engaging manner than any learning video or article.
The movie goes into the mind of an 11-year-old girl, Riley, from Minnesota, who moves to San Francisco with her parents. The leading characters of the movie however are Riley’s primary emotions. Cleverly characterised in the movie, they are Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust, five of the six scientifically validated universal emotions as identified by Paul Eckman. Moving towns is difficult for Riley and the movie captures how her emotions interact, and how overcoming difficult transitions can develop Emotional Intelligence and help to integrate new identities. The writers worked with psychologists with the result that the film is very accurate in terms of developmental and clinical psychology.
Without spoiling the plot for those of you yet to see the movie, here are five lessons that the movie can teach leaders.
1. Managing your emotions. Our emotions drive our behaviour, our decisions, and our interpretations of reality. In the movie they are managed by Riley’s Central Control Panel, which resonates with Self-management as described by Emotional Intelligence theory. While Joy is depicted as being in charge of the Central Control Panel, when Riley is under pressure, the other emotions begin vying for control. As a leader when you feel yourself “losing control”, it might help to pause and observe your emotions and ask which emotion has their hand on the lever. Who’s not allowed to have a say? Can you find a balance and regain control?
2. Become aware of and challenge your perceptions. One of the movies funniest scenes depicts a family dinner featuring the characters that represent Riley’s parents’ emotions, reminding us that people can perceive the same situations very differently. As a leader are you solely guided by your own perception of a situation or do you seek to check your assumptions and see things from other points of view?
3. Develop your empathy to build relationships. One of the key themes of the movie is that Joy tries to block Sadness from impacting on Riley and her memories. However in doing so Riley becomes emotionally shut down, unable to feel either Sadness or Joy. While inspiring leaders endeavour to foster positivity in their teams it is important to recognise that sadness and the other negative emotions have a place. Recognising sadness helps to develop empathy and strengthen relationships while processing difficult emotions rather than ignoring them, strengthens the team and prepares them to deal with future challenges.
4. Transitions can help build new identities. As Riley struggles with settling in to her new environment, her identity islands formed by her core memories come under threat. We later see how they make way for new identity islands as she settles down. Newly promoted leaders often have a hard time letting go of old tasks that form part of their work identity, however in moving through the transition it is important that the old identity makes way for a new one.
5. Leaders need to effectively manage expectations when promoting change. Riley’s parents paint an unrealistic picture of how great the move is going to be. When selling your vision build trust and manage expectations by acknowledging the challenges that lie on the journey to achieving that vision.
What were your thoughts?