Leadership through Toy Story

NKD Reviews: Toy Story 4

Before we shut the lid of the toybox, we ask: what have we learnt about leadership from Woody?

Before we shut the lid of the toybox, we ask: what have we learnt about leadership from Woody?

Back in 2014 when Disney/Pixar first announced it was making Toy Story 4,  fans around the world rejoiced – not only were we getting to play with Andy’s (now Bonnie’s) toys again, but we were finally getting an answer to the big question: whatever happened to Bo Peep?!

As we’ve come to expect from a Toy Story adventure, Woody, Buzz and the gang set out into the big wide world with a mission. For this instalment, it’s to save Forky, a spork with pipe-cleaner arms and googly eyes that doesn’t want to be a toy. In the process, Woody reunites with Bo Beep, now living life as a ‘lost toy’.

Pixar are master storytellers: their stories speak to our souls and as toys, monsters, emotions all discover what it means to be a toy, a monster, or an emotion, we all find out what it means to be ‘more human’ – GENIUS!

Pixar usually cleverly weave in subtle jokes for adults throughout their films… but this Toy Story feels different; in this version, it feels like they’ve cleverly woven in gags for kids, with the story predominately aimed at adults… maybe because the kids who watched the original are now taking their kids to see it! And this was our chance to say goodbye to the toys we’ve grown up with!

The Toy Story franchise always deal with purpose as a central idea – what gives a toy’s life meaning is to be played with, loved, and to be there for a child. In Toy Story 4, Woody has to confront his changing purpose head on.

Woody’s been “Top Toy” for most of his career, but recently in Bonnie’s Bedroom, he’s been slowly moving down the toy ranks, getting played with less and less. He steadfastly sticks to his purpose, even though it’s driving a wedge between him and the other toys – he’s really struggling to see where he fits in within Bonnie’s Bedroom culture…

You can see where I’m going with this, can’t you?

On paper, Woody is a good leader: he wants to empower the toys to live their best toy lives, he wants them to love Bonnie, be there for Bonnie, he wants to galvanise the toys behind a purpose… but it’s his purpose and because of that, he’s totally inflexible (which is ironic seeing as he’s a rag doll! Pixar, you’ve done it again!)

Too often we see leaders attempting to bring their company purpose or company strategy to life in ways that are not meaningful or genuine for their people. We see leaders drill down through mammoth PowerPoint presentations, outlining what the purpose means and how to ‘live’ it, rather than letting employees build their own understanding and make their own meaning.

If this is you, why don’t you try a new approach?

  • Start with why – explain why the strategy or purpose is important to the business, to your people…but let your people come to their own conclusions…
  • Then, what – describe the elements of the strategy or purpose, but leave it open for interpretation…
  • Then, how – give some pointers on how to bring it to life, but ultimately, use 1-2-1’s or chat-and-connect conversations to flesh out how each person can bring it to life for themselves…
  • Finish with, So what? – this is where you give your ‘call to action’ and ‘next steps’, again, totally in the hands of your people

So, as the toybox lid closes and we say goodbye to the Toy Story gang forever, it’s worth looking back and reflecting: what have we learned about being more human from these lively little toys?

To find out more about how we bring strategy and purpose to life give us a call or drop us an email!