12 Most Animated Leadership Lessons from Dreamworks Movies by Doug Rice

Posted: November 20, 2013 in 4-H, Leadership Development, Monday Morning Message

The greatest lessons in leadership are instilled in us when we are young. It’s the stories we’re told that become the morals we live by.

12 Most Animated Leadership Lessons from Dreamworks Movies

Disney’s animated movies have been nurturing leaders for decades, but recently, a new giant in the animated film genre has arisen to pass on some pearls of wisdom. Here are some great leadership lessons from Dreamworks animated movies…

1. Antz: making a difference starts with being different

Antz is a story all about a worker ant named “Z” lost in the mindless mass of a conformist society. He longs to step out of his role and explore his individuality. His willingness to do so eventually ends up saving his people.

As a leader, you aren’t going to make waves until you make the conscious decision to step out of the pack and be a wave maker.

2. The Prince of Egypt: injustice cannot be ignored

Moses, raised among royalty while his people are enslaved right in front of him, runs away where he can forget about the injustices taking place. But God finds him and calls him to return to set His people free. Eventually, Moses rises to the occasion and returns to lead the Israelites out of Egypt.

Leaders don’t turn a blind eye to injustice. They don’t ignore it. They right wrongs.

3. Shrek: first impressions can’t be trusted

When Fiona meets Shrek, she expects him to be a “knight in shining armor” and he turns out to be a disgusting ogre. When he first meets Fiona, he sees her as a pampered, dainty princess with whom he has nothing in common. As they get to know each other, Fiona begins to see that Shrek is really kind and Shrek begins to see that Fiona burps and eats bugs. They’re not so different after all.

Leaders give people second chances. They recognize that everyone has an off-day now and then. A first impression is just one impression. It often isn’t the entire picture.

4. Spirit: the tamed spirit is the unfree spirit

Spirit is a horse that is captured and domesticated. He meets a female horse that shows him the perks of the domesticated life. He gets plenty of food. He gets shelter. He gets taken care of. Life is simpler. But it’s also more restricting. In the end, he can’t shake his sense of adventure and chooses freedom over domesticity.

Leaders never lose the free spirit. They are always resisting the easy life. The comfort zone is a prison. Freedom, even if it’s scary, is the modus operandi of a leader.

5. Shark Tale: lies always find you out

Oscar is a fish who isn’t satisfied with his ordinary life and wants to be seen as something great. When the opportunity presents itself, he invents a lie that he is a great shark slayer. In the end, of course, the lie unravels and he nearly gets himself killed.

Leaders never lie, no matter what. If something can only be gotten by lying, it isn’t worth having in the first place.

6. Madagascar: sometimes, your comfort zone steps out of you

In Madagascar, Alex is a lion completely content with his cushy life in the New York zoo. In a misunderstanding, Alex and his friends get shipped off to Africa and inadvertently land in Madagascar. Talk about culture shock!

Leaders recognize that there are no guarantees. Things happen. And you can either adapt or die. No one is promised the cushy life forever. Leaders can make any zone a comfort zone.

7. Over the Hedge: your people are ends, not means

RJ is a raccoon that tricks a group of forest creatures into sneaking into the suburbs to get food for him. As he gets to know them, though, he begins to see them as family and feels guilty about using them. In the end, he has a change of heart and gives up the food to save his friends.

Leaders don’t use people. Leaders recognize people as being inherently valuable. Whether they are employees, customers or just random connections, people are ends in themselves.

8. Flushed Away: a life of community trumps a life of comfort

Roddy is a pet mouse that gets flushed down a toilet and lands in a sewer. He meets a female mouse who, though poor, has a huge and loving family. Eventually, he opts to give up his life of comfort for a life in the sewer with his new friends.

Leaders recognize that it’s not about the environment; it’s about the people you share it with. Without the right people, the right place is hollow. Community is everything.

9. Kung-Fu Panda: there is no secret ingredient

Po, a bumbling panda, is selected by a Kung Fu master to be the prophesied Dragon Warrior. His teacher doesn’t believe in him. His friends don’t believe in him. He doesn’t even believe in himself. That is, until his father reveals the secret ingredient to his special soup: nothing. “It’s special, because you believe it is.” Po then realizes that he only needs to believe in himself to become the Dragon Warrior.

Leaders don’t need super powers or special abilities to make a difference. They only need the belief and conviction that they can. Leaders don’t need a secret ingredient; leaders are the secret ingredient.

10. Monsters Vs Aliens: contentment comes with embracing new realities

Susan, an ordinary woman just about to be wed to her dream guy, is struck by a comet and turned into a giant. She is then taken from her ordinary life and kept in a secret government facility with other “monsters.” When the earth is invaded by aliens, however, the monsters are called upon to save humanity. Susan must let go of her dream of being “normal” and accept the new being she has become.

Leaders embrace new realities. Sometimes, you can’t go back to the way it was before. Change is neither good nor bad. It just is. Leaders embrace it and use it to their advantage.

11. How to Train Your Dragon: the threat may be the opportunity

Hiccup is a pacifistic son of dragon-slaying Viking chief. His entire community exists to hunt dragons. Hiccup begins to acquire the ability to understand and communicate with dragons and realizes that they are simply misunderstood. In the end, he persuades his village to stop seeing them as pests and begin seeing them as pets.

Leaders are willing to see things from every angle. What looks like a threat, a negative, or even competition, may turn out to be a positive opportunity for collaboration. There are two sides to every coin and, before charging into battle, leaders always see if there’s a way of peace.

12. Megamind: jealousy is the root of villainy

Megamind fancies himself the greatest villain of all-time. He dresses in dark attire, captures the hero’s favorite girl, and keeps an evil side-kick named “Minion.” But it’s all really a sham. He’s only acting out of envy. The hero, Metro Man, hogged the limelight when they were kids and he rebelled as a result.

Leaders recognize that a crime is often a cry to be noticed. When people misbehave, it is often merely a backlash against the way they’ve been treated. Leaders seek to understand before they judge.

How many of these movies have you seen? What’s your favorite Dreamworks animated film? What’s the best lesson that you’ve learned from Dreamworks? Drop us a line in the comments below…

  1. Seen them all… and this is just one of the reasons I love animation.
    My favorite lesson comes from Shrek. Things don’t always turn out the way we expect, but that doesn’t mean they don’t end up wonderful. Stay open to possibilities!

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