Leadership in the Ice Age – Bring the Warmth of Compassion

“Ice Age 3 – Dawn of the Dinosaur”

Okay, you can tell I have kids.

And I can’t get away from making the connections between these children-friendly flicks and the meaning of leadership, pesonality differences, relationships, and life.

Indulge me. The group of ice-age animals are on another adventure. And this time, the clumsy, accident-prone clown in the group – Sid – brings three baby dinosaurs to their valley home. I replay over and over again the scene in this movie entitled, “That’s One Angry Fossil”, where the mommy T-rex snifs out her lost hatchlings and brings fear and terror to the perceived safety of Sid’s family of friends.

When the angry T-rex enters the valley on the hunt one of Sid’s friends, Manny the Mammoth, advises everyone to remain absolutely still. For perhaps the visually impaired giant will mistaken the terrified gaggle of creatures for trees, rocks, snow drifts and bushes, and move on, leaving them alone.

After a few seconds of strenuous, forced silence and stillness, however, all hell breaks loose. While Manny holds his ground and remains still, an ostrich sticks her head in the snow and a four-legged fur ball runs across the screen screaming “Aaaahhhh!” Mayhem ensues, and the chase is now on. No more pretending. No more hiding. All is now in the open.

Socrates’ guiding rule was “Know Thyself”. Never better advice than when confronted with our greatest fears and challenges. To be one’s true self in leadership, life, relationship – is to demonstrate a degree of self-awareness and self-knowledge. And, I would add, especially in adversity, self-compassion.

If the T-rex may symbolize all that scares us in life, all that stands in opposition to us, all that represents adversity and challenge – how do you normally respond? When leaders are honest about themselves and are openly on a journey of transformation and healing, they give permission to the people they lead to do the same.

Where would you locate yourself amid the various responses of the Ice Age animals:

1. Are you like Manny the Mammoth who holds his ground, immovable, unyielding, offering power-against-power?

2. Are you like the ostrich, who sticks her head in the ground trying to hide from and pretend the problem will go away if you avoid it or deny it?

3. Are you like the fur-ball creature who copes with stress by “screaming”, acting out, and incessantly moving, running and drawing an overwhelming burden of attention upon yourself?

Likely we demonstrate all of the above to varying degrees depending on the circumstance. Likely, as well, you tend towards one of the three most of the time. Which one?

The solution is not found in following one of the above-described compulsions. Pursuing each of the three to their logical ends does no-one any good:

1. Remaining immovable and unyielding through it all will undermine any mutuality, team-work and compromise – values integral to effective leadership.

2. Hiding from the problem, pretending it doesn’t exisit, faking a positive impression leads to a breakdown of honesty, embrace of reality and building genuine relationship – values integral to effective leadership.

3. Acting out, immersing yourself in hyper-activity and over-stepping boundaries on the pretext of caring leads to the demise of mutual respect – also valuable in effective leadership.

The solution is also not in repressing these natural qualities that make up our ego-identity. The development of our ego is important in self-differentiation and adding spice to life with others. Each of us brings untold gifts, abilities and flavour to whatever organization and community to which we belong. So, while our egos often get us into trouble, we also need to appreciate them and love the good they bring. We love Sid for his humour, Diego for his prowess, Manny for his wise presence. Trying to be other than who we are at the start, or engaging in hateful self-talk about our compulsive tendencies, serve only to hinder our growth and maturity.

Compassion with self, on the other hand, offers a way through.

In the climax of the movie, mommy T-rex saves Sid from certain death. By the end of the movie, we see how the mother T-rex, Sid, and the three baby dinosaurs become friends. I don’t want to give too much away – watch the movie even if you don’t have kids! – to find out how.

Let me say at very least the solution was found not by avoiding the problem or giving up, but by following a natural curiosity and love for each other despite the challenges they faced.

In leadership, our compulsions may initially drive our responses to adversity and fear. Such responses may result in successes from time to time. Ultimately, however, if we remain at this unaware level of consiousness we will become disappointed and frustrated more often than not.

More importantly, whether or not we can integrate our lives with compassion both for our compulsive natures and whatever ignites our compulsions – this will determine our longevity and resiliency in leadership, and in relationship with others.

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