Is the latest animated Disney film a charming kids’ movie or an insightful documentary on the state of the global workforce? Could Encanto have leadership lessons for us?
Encanto captivated my three-year-old son with its lovable characters, bright colors, fast action, and catchy songs. On the surface, the film provided simple entertainment value for our young audience. However, like many recent animated films, there was a layer of subtle complexity that many adults could also relate to.
The story revolves around superhuman gifts granted to almost every member of the Madrigal household. The family and surrounding community seem to be flourishing because of these gifts. However, the superhuman gifts seem to have skipped Mirabel, a teenage member of the family.
As the film progresses, Mirabel begins to see cracks in their magical Casita. While the physical cracks are becoming apparent in their family home, stress fractures are also forming in the family members themselves. The years of living up to the expectations of performing with superhuman gifts are taking their toll.
In a quest to find the cause of the cracks in the Casita, Mirabel encounters a family secret. She learns her family banished her uncle for using his gift of premonition. It’s at this point we are introduced to the catchy song “We Don’t Talk About Bruno.”
Sitting in my theater chair with my family I did a doubletake. Was that a cute kids’ film or had Disney just created an animated documentary for the current state of the workplace??
This Disney production contains a multitude of life lessons. Personally, I left this film with four Encanto leadership lessons to consider:
1 – Am I Taking Advantage of Those With “Superhuman Gifts”?
Much like the gifted members of the Madrigal family, “stress fractures” can eventually debilitate even our top performers.
Certified leadership coach Dr. R. Anderson Campbell explains our top performers often end up with what is called the “curse of competence“. As leaders, it’s easy to fall into the trap of always looking to our top performers when we need to pull off a miracle. Their continued success can perpetuate a never-ending cycle. Each time we ask them to pull off the impossible, they strive to succeed at all cost.
Problems arise when the need to pull off a miracle becomes a regular occurrence. The COVID-19 pandemic seems to have provided our organizations with a never-ending supply of crisis situations. Forbes contributor and leadership strategist Benjamin Laker presents research indicating that 94% of the workplace is currently stressed to the point that their well-being is impacted. Economists and HR experts believe this seemingly never-ending cycle is likely leading to millions leaving their jobs. While pay is a concern, workers are looking for companies “that value both mental health and work-life balance.”
2 – Do I Neglect Those Seemingly Without a “Gift”?
While the rest of the Madrigal family suffered the curse of competence, Mirabel was seen as average. The rest of the family often neglected to include her and even asked her to stay out of the way.
If the Harvard Business Review article “Let’s Hear It for B Players” would have been written today, it would have likely had a reference to Mirabel. DeLong and Vijayaraghavan indicate “companies are routinely blinded to the important role B Players (average performers) serve in saving organizations from themselves.” As beneficial as top-performing A players are to a company, they come with a risk. With their “superhuman gifts” they can often take unnecessary risks. A Players can also become so focused on their own performance they can actually start to erode the effectiveness of the overall organization.
B Players often serve several critical roles. They often act as a ballast for the volatile actions of the top performers. B Players can also play a vital role in bringing others together. They often bring others together to accomplish something bigger than what an even a top-performing individual could accomplish on their own.
3 – Do I Banish Those With the Gift of Premonition?
It’s unlikely that anyone could have predicted all the disruptions that occurred over the last few years as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, some businesses seem to be thriving in this environment while others received a death sentence. What is behind these drastic differences in results?
Most business leaders don’t include the neighborhood psychic on their company payrolls, but often we have people on our teams with future-looking vision. Unfortunately, we don’t always give these dreamers the same level of attention as those focused on the here and now.
There are two types of dreamers. The futurists and the chicken littles.
The futurists often come up with wild ideas that we laugh out of the room. “Why would Apple build a phone when they were dominating with portable music players?” Maybe that wasn’t such a crazy idea after all.
The chicken littles are just as annoying. They always want to rain on our parade. In 2006 I’m sure some were getting annoyed with the chicken littles. “Why would we want to diversify our investments? There’s no way real estate prices will fall.” In 2019 do you think anyone may have said: “We have seen double-digit growth in our new venture. What could possibly slow us down?”
No, as leaders we don’t need to spend hours on a psychic hotline to prepare our organizations. Often those with an eye for the future are already in our midst. We just need to make sure they have a seat at the table.
4 – Do We Have Any Undiscussables?
“You can measure the health of a team by counting the number of undiscussables.” – Joseph Grenny
In a “groundbreaking experiment” studying kids and the consumption of brownies, young researcher Sam Grenny learns a startling fact. Children learn at a very early age that there are some things we just don’t discuss.
In Sam’s science fair project he wanted to see how well little kids tell the truth, especially when it might hurt our feelings. Sam made two plates of brownies. He made one with the normal recipe and the other he replaced the sugar with salt. They were awful, but the majority of the kids said they would pick the salt brownies over the normal recipe. Because they didn’t want to hurt his feelings, they remained silent.
Remaining silent over a batch of brownies may not come with significant consequences. However, if left unaddressed, many undiscussable will take an organization towards the path of destruction. Much like the undiscussables in the Madrigal family, the stress fractures of remaining silent on topics can eventually cause our organizations to crumble.
Encanto Leadership Lessons?
Leaders, we add value when we honor those with and without rockstar gifts. We add value when we give the dreamers a seat at the table. Leaders, we add value when we break silence on the undiscussables.
Once again I’ve found myself learning a leadership lesson watching an animated kids film. Encanto has leadership lessons for us. As I neared the bottom of my $15 popcorn bucket, I couldn’t help but think; we need to talk about Bruno.