I recently attended the Broadway tour of Disney’s Mary Poppins with my son. We had such a special evening – just the two of us! I joyfully watched his expressions of amazement and wonder as the magic of Mary Poppins unfolded on stage. I have to admit, I enjoyed it every bit as much as he did!! It was creative, colorful, perfectly cast and well-performed.
In addition to the pure entertainment value, I was thrilled to realize that there were some valid connections that could be tied back to great leadership! As a multi-tasking mom and a leadership practitioner, I decided to seize the opportunity to leverage the metaphors!
A Spoonful of Sugar
The children in the story are in need of a new nanny. They’ve gone through quite a few, it seems, because they are demanding, rude and thoughtless. As the story progresses, we see that other nannies respond to the children with equal disrespect and disregard. As a result, the children are unhappy and the nannies quit their position.
What Mary Poppins teaches everyone in a widely familiar tune is that “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” What she means by that is simply that we don’t need to yell and thoughtlessly demand to get results. Instead, we can speak with kindness and achieve the same result.
Leaders, be aware of your word choices; not just in how you speak, but also in how those words are received. Your language should be inspiring and engaging, bringing your team together to work toward a common goal. By choosing a positive, motivational approach, your team is much more likely to jump on board and contribute their best.
Anything Can Happen if You Let It
While working with the children, one of Mary Poppins’ greatest obstacles is getting the children to think differently and use their imaginations in ways they had never done before. She consistently reminds them that “anything can happen if you let it” and the song reprises several times throughout the show.
I took the time to reinforce this song and theme with my son too!! Why? Because, isn’t it so true that we are often our biggest obstacle? Our perceptions of what is holding us back are often in our mind. Many times, we accept them as true without even trying to test if our perceptions are accurate. And often, they’re not. We underestimate the people around us, as well as our own abilities…or, sadly, we just accept these misperceptions, because it’s easier than trying to test them.
Leaders at all levels who recognize the need for change need to go for it!! If the need is compelling, don’t just let it go; take the risk to speak up! Begin to make the case, have discussions with your team and your peers; get others in the boat with you! If you’re seeing something “new,” it could be the exact thing that’s needed to take your company to a new level!
With a proactive approach (if you’ll empower yourself or one of your employees!), you can clearly demonstrate your value as a leader. You can leverage your strengths, as well as the strengths of your team. A fresh, creative approach is often what’s needed to launch a huge success. As Albert Einstein once pointed out, “insanity is doing the same things over and over and expecting different results.”
Build Your Replacement
During Mary Poppins’ time with the Banks family, she does an excellent job of sharing wisdom and encouraging each member of the family to leverage that wisdom in their own role. In doing so, each one of them gains confidence, shifts perspective and begins to take on more responsibility. In essence, they learn and grow. So much, in fact, that in the end, they decide that they no longer need a nanny to handle the issues that have been solved or the tasks that they can now effectively manage on their own.
Mary, like a great leader, thought about the succession plan. She thoughtfully considered who needed to grow in what areas and she worked to help develop them. After building into them, she effectively replaced herself, knowing she would need to move on to another family in need.
Carl Rogers, an influential psychologist and Nobel Peace Prize nominee said this about leaders…
The most effective leader is one who can create the conditions by which he will actually lose his leadership.
Leaders, one of your most important jobs is to bring out the best in everyone around you. It will positively impact the organization and each person individually. You should be constantly looking for new ways to challenge your team and to help them grow and succeed. Have regular discussions about strengths and how you can most effectively deploy each person and stretch them in areas they’ll enjoy most. In time, you’ll have the best succession plan with a seamless implementation!
What can you do to insert a little more Mary Poppins into your organization? How can you think differently or encourage others to do so? If you follow her approach, the result could be as she is – “Practically Perfect,” as the song goes!!!
Erin Schreyer is President of Sagestone Partners, a firm specializing in Leadership and Talent Management. Erin is a certified Coach, as well as a certified Strengths Trainer. Her focus is on helping leaders – even great ones! – maximize the impact they have on their people, as well as their business results. For more information, visit www.sagestone-partners.com or reach out to Erin directly at firstname.lastname@example.org