Leadership Thoughts from “How to Train Your Dragon”

I had the pleasure today of going to the movies; one of my favorite luxuries.  Thankfully, I have children.  That means that I get to see any movie I want, without being embarrassed by being an adult alone in a “kid’s movie.”  This works well for me because I’ve found that most PG-13 movies are too much for me.  I much prefer the creativity and inventiveness found in many G and PG movies.  In the past 5 years, I’ve seen one R-rated film (on a flight home from a business trip), and I was frankly appalled, not only at its content, but the lack of creativity that inspired it.

So, what did I see today?  A PG-rated film called “How to Train Your Dragon.”  Would I recommend it?  You bet!!  Let me tell you why…

The story centers around a boy named “Hiccup,” who is drastically different from everyone around him, including his own family.  They are Vikings, who eat, sleep and breathe dragon-slaying.  Everyone in the village is big and brawny.  But Hiccup?  Not so much…  He wants to be like everyone else, but just doesn’t seem to have it in him.

During the course of the movie (without revealing too much detail), Hiccup befriends someone totally foreign to him. Much like the Good Samaritan of the New Testament, he chooses to help someone he’s been taught all of his life to fear and hate.  Not only does he go against the tradition of his people, but he does it at great cost to himself.  He comes to realize that the things he’s been taught all of his life have been based on misinformation.  People fought and died believing one thing, only for Hiccup (and us) to find out that they were wrong; they had misunderstood the motivation of their enemy for years.  With understanding, came trust, and with trust, came peace.

To bring his people to that place of understanding, Hiccup not only had to accept that he was different and stop trying to be like everyone else, but he had to embrace the things that made him different.  In accepting the strengths and weaknesses that were uniquely his, he was able to bridge gaps that enabled him to establish peace where there had been none before.

Change was just one of many things that scared Hiccup.  But, as with all great leaders, he recognized a need that he was clearly suited to fill.  So, he set aside his fear and did the things that needed doing.  This ultimately cost him his family, his village and his closest friend.  Yet, despite the personal sacrifice required, he stayed with it to the end.

As with Hiccup, leaders have no idea how things will turn out in the end.  They only know that the way is uncharted, and sometimes it’s scary.  (As one character in the movie comments, “pack extra undies.”)  We also must be willing and able to look at others, and value their diversity and commonality as well.  Hiccup tells a friend at one point in the movie “I looked at him, and saw myself.”

We are each uniquely suited to do specific things because of our individual differences.  So, what’s your difference?  Do you embrace it, or hide it?  To be a leader, you must recognize and embrace your difference; only then can people truly know who you are and what you’re capable of.   And you must value the unique traits in those who follow you; for only then can you accomplish great things, together…