Leadership lessons from Disney’s Peter Pan

“We’re following the leader, the leader, the leader, we’re following the leader wherever he may go. Tee dum, tee dee ……”

This week’s Blog is written by Becky Thomas (@Becky_QICTM). Becky is a Senior Nurse for Improvement, she is described as being a creative, innovative, and enthusiastic individual with a great passion for nursing, improving the ways in which we work and growing leaders.

But why? Why do some people lead, some follow? What inspires us to follow anyone or anything??

Wendy, John, and Michael Darling’s tale of adventure in Neverland has captivated and inspired audiences for more than half a century, and Peter Pan offers some valuable leadership lessons.  In this Blog I discuss the 5 lessons I have learnt from the boy ‘who never wanted to grow up.’

1. The Power of Storytelling

We can fly, we can fly ……. all it takes is faith and trust and a little bit of pixie dust

Sometimes all it takes is faith and trust for us to achieve extraordinary things.

Telling stories is one of the most powerful means leaders have to influence, teach, and inspire. If you tell great stories, then you also have social power as a leader and people will want to connect with your vision. Research confirms that well-designed stories are the most effective vehicle for exerting influence. Leaders must create a compelling narrative that creates a sense of connection, builds familiarity, and inspires trust. However, the primary power of any visionary leader doesn’t lie purely in their story – it lies, instead, in the willingness of their people to accept the story as their own. Think about it for a second …. no one is captivated by a person they don’t believe in.

This summer I took part in the NHS Horizon’s School for Change Agents. It is here that I first heard the term: Public Narrative, described as a leadership practice of translating values into action. Public narrative provides a framework for crafting stories to motivate commitment to a shared purpose and call to action. Why not give it a try!

2. Curiosity and Imagination

Walt Disney once famously remarked, “Around here, however, we don’t look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things… and curiosity and imagination keeps leading us down new paths.”

As children we are naturally curious and imaginative. Always learning and looking for new experiences and information. As we become adults, we often lose that natural curiosity and eagerness. As great leaders we need to learn how to unleash the curiosity we had as a child again.

Imagination and curiosity are wonderful gifts that help you problem-solve, explore and innovate. Practicing a little inquisitiveness unlocks opportunities and leads us to embrace problems through a more creative lens.  When our curiosity is triggered, we think more deeply and rationally about decisions and come up with more creative solutions.

A good imagination helps leaders develop a clear concept of what they want to achieve, this in turn will facilitate their creativity and breathe life into their vision.  Think about the washing up liquid bottle that became a rocket or the empty carboard box that became a car or even a castle!! Spending time playing helps unlock your imagination and nurtures creative thinking. Ever hear of Lego Serious Play? No, well it is a legitimate way to bring play into your daily working. Lego Serious Play sparks creativity and imagination, it can lead to new ideas and approaches, improved communication and better problem-solving.

Why not try and jumpstart your curiosity and imagination and be open to what is possible.

And remember it’s ok to have fun and be a kid sometimes.

3. Followership

There’s no denying that the Lost Boys are the best friends Peter could have. Steve Jobs may have founded and led Apple but could not have achieved success without the followers who worked for him. Health services around the world would not function without the support of their staff. Followership may take the backseat to leadership, but it matters. In fact, it matters a lot! There are no leaders without followers.

As leaders we depend on those that follow us more than we sometimes realise. The role followers will play will depend on the context, environment or position they are in. The relationship between leader and follower can therefore be interchangeable.

In his quick three-minute TED Talk, Derek Sivers explains that as a leader it’s important to recognize yourself as an equal with your followers. According to Sivers, the courageous actions of the first follower is what transforms an individual with an idea into a leader.  He wraps up his message with some advice that we should all remember, as we navigate our own careers, or just life in general:

“When you see a lone nut doing something great, have the courage to stand up and join in.”

4. Be More Pirate

Captain Hook is the main antagonist in the film. He is a bloodthirsty pirate who commands the Jolly Roger. He creates rules and breaks them to get his revenge on Peter.

Captain Hook aside we can learn a lot from pirates if we buy into the rebellious mindset outlined in the book Be More Pirate, written by entrepreneur Sam Conniff.  He writes about the unimagined strategy of pirates as pioneers of change, leadership, and social innovation. It is fundamentally about rule breaking, about challenging and re-shaping systems. We are encouraged to be courageous and re-write out-dated rules.

They may not have taken their lead from pirates, but in 2016 the IHI Leadership Alliance launched a campaign asking you to consider Breaking the Rules for Better Care. They invited you to help them ‘surface and share the rules, habits, policies, and procedures that get in the way of a better care experience for patients or staff’.

If you could break or change one rule in service of a better care experience for patients or staff, what would it be and why?

5. Seek Adventure

‘Would you like to have an adventure now, or would you like to have your tea first?’

Adventures in Neverland are “a daily occurrence,”. The movie encourages us to go to unexpected places for inspiration and to try new things. It emboldens us to be willing to depart from our comfort zone.

Leaders are so used to motivating and empowering others they often forget they need to challenge themselves too. To be an effective leader we must understand the benefits of learning new things, growing beyond our current skill set, and developing a strong connection with those around us.

To make changes and grow as a person and leader, we must be brave and start the exploration of the space beyond our comfort zone. The first challenge we are likely to be faced with in this exploration is fear. Fear can be paralysing and keep you in your comfort zone. Afterall the comfort zone is a place of certainty and safety.  Suzanne Jeffers, a psychologist who wrote the book  Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway, explains that the root of all our fears is basic: we fear we won’t be able to handle the situation if the worst happens. To which she has the simple reply: ‘You’ll handle it!

Stepping outside your comfort zone can have a transformative effect not just on you but on your entire team. With new perspectives you are better equipped to problem-solve in innovative ways. Ultimately effective leaders need to be comfortable with feeling uncomfortable.

Are you aware of your comfort zones? Are you stepping outside them and into the ‘leadership zone’?

At first glance, Peter Pan seems like a movie about the wonderful, carefree spirit of childhood. But I hope I have shown that when you look at the story through a leadership lens, we can take some great lessons from it. I’ll leave the last word to Peter Pan ……

“Think of all the joy you’ll find, when you leave the world behind and bid your fears goodbye.” — “You Can Fly!”

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