"Unless You Care a Whole Awful Lot..."
Spoiler-Alert: If you haven’t watched “The Lorax” and may want to—some of the story may be revealed in what follows…
Here’s a quick recap of the story-line. Twelve-year-old Ted lives in a place virtually devoid of nature; no flowers or trees grow in the town of Thneedville. Ted would very much like to win the heart of Audrey, the girl of his dreams, but to do this, he must find that which she most desires: a Truffula tree. To get it, Ted delves into the story of the Lorax, once the gruff guardian of the forest, and the Once-ler, who let greed overtake his respect for nature. In the movie, the creator and business tycoon of Thneedville is O’Hare.
I love how movies, especially animation films, have powerful leadership lessons embedded in them, for those who care to take them in. These are just three of the many lessons I took away from “The Lorax” (thank you Dr. Suess and Universal Studios):
1. “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s Not!”
Yes, Ted’s original motive to go find a Truffula tree was in self-interest. What becomes very apparent as he sees beyond Thneedville is much bigger than just his self-interest. The existence of humanity is at stake. To save humanity and the planet, he takes it upon himself to get that last Truffula seed and is committed to planting it in Thneedville.
It takes courage to take a risk, especially when it’s against the existing way of doing things. Life was so “perfect” in the sanitary Thneedville. The grass (artificial turf) was always green, there was always electricity, water and sunshine. Except it was all within a bubble, with none of the citizens of Thneedville being aware of something beyond their known world. Ted dares to break out of the bubble and see what lies beyond. He sees the problem created by the Once-ler and eventually gains Once-ler’s wisdom, or more like lessons learned from his greed and short-term plan to get rich.
Ted cared an awful lot to reveal the truth and to reclaim a better (more real) world.
ASK YOURSELF: What do I care about awful lot, in my immediate work environment? Can you give yourself permission to entertain: “unless I speak up, find solutions and take action for a better outcome—nothing is going to get better.”
2. The days of monopolies are over. Freedom of choice and respect are what sell.
O’Hare was the ruler/owner of Thneedville and the people didn’t even realize it. He supplied all their utilities and his company ran everything within the bubble town. He was a monopoly, with a “smile.” When all was going well, everyone looked happy, and they followed his rules.
When Ted cracked through the wall of the bubble and returned with the Truffula seed, he saw an immediate threat to his world, his monopoly (oh I forgot to mention, he sold oxygen too). He tried to squash Ted and capture the seed. On Ted’s first attempt to talk to the masses of people of Thneedville, O’Hare won the people back with all the great benefits of his services and they swayed back to him. It wasn’t until Ted truly broke a part of the wall around the bubble, and the masses saw the barren land that lay beyond—with all the trees cut down by Once-ler (who’s now reformed), that the masses woke up and unanimously saw Ted’s point. They dumped O’Hare and started a new existence, with that one Truffula seed. All thanks to one kid, Ted, who dared to lead in such a powerful way.
ASK YOURSELF: What am I holding on to as my own turf and not willing to see the impact on others? How would you show up at work if you engaged all stakeholders in an open dialog about each person’s agenda? Try it out. I bet you’ll end up more successful (as Ted was—got the girlfriend) and so will the collective (Thneedville got freedom and choice).
3. Seek out and respect the wisdom (and gumption) of elders.
Grammy Norma is Ted’s grandmother. She shares hints of what is beyond the bubble, enough to get him curious but not spell it out for him. He figures out how to get to gate that leads outside the bubble existence of Tneedville. She has a wit and energy that has the audience intrigued. She’s got a magical quality that’s appealing, an umph that had me thinking “I want to be that brave and fun when I’ve got dentures in my mouth.”
Grammy Norma played the role of a good coach. She didn’t give Ted his answers but she stirred up his curiosity, and pointed him in the right direction. She encouraged him.
ASK YOURSELF: If you are starting out in your career—who can I invite at work or elsewhere to be my mentor? If you have one already, set an intentional agreement with the person on what you expect, what you are seeking as your next growth edge and invite them to agree/modify/say no to your agreement.
If you are more seasoned in your career—are you already intentionally mentoring at least one newer to the workforce person? Are you clear about their agenda—current state and future state toward what they want? What can you do to stir up their curiosity and teach them how to fish? Be more a coach (ask) than a mentor (tell).
Perhaps the term “elders” conveys a parent/child relationship. Yes and no. Yes in cultures that respect their elders carte blanch it’s a bit obligatory. Thinking of people in the workforce with a lot of experience as elders can help you: get curious to learn, to compare perspectives and to challenge you as you challenge them. This can make for more open conversations between generations and levels of experience. Naturally, this works in reverse too. “Elders” must be open to listen and learn to those that are now standing on their shoulders, as future generations will stand on the shoulders of those who are new to the workforce.
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