I watched Monsters University with my younger son and could not help wondering how many leaders could benefit from two key lessons in the movie. The premise of the film was that two monsters are both attending the university to be “scarers.” Complete opposites, they meet by chance at the beginning of the movie, and are forced to help one another after each causes the other to be removed from the “scaring” program.
The first lesson in the movie regards Mike. Mike was a cute little monster shaped like a ball. He was committed, disciplined, determined, and passionate about being a great “scarer.” He studied night and day and could not be distracted. He knew every technique and could even teach the other monsters what to do. However, with all of his know-how, he just was not scary. He did not have the talent to be scary. The headmaster recognized this and removed him from the program. This was a great decision by the headmaster, one that most leaders fail to make fast enough. The reality is that the university should never have let Mike in the program to begin with.
Too often leaders ignore that a person clearly does not have the qualities and talents to be successful in a role and put them in that role regardless. There are all kinds of excuses: they are family or friends; they were successful in another job; I have nobody else, etc. These are all poor excuses that only put the leader and the “misplaced” person in a bad position. If the person is not “scary” they will never be “scary.” You cannot turn a duck into a chick, a turtle into a rabbit, or snake into a bird. Unfortunately, I see leaders attempting to win this struggle on a regular basis and not understanding where they went wrong. Worse, they take it out on the poor person they put in the wrong position.
Lesson number two was related to Scully. Scully had amazing talent, looked scary, was huge, and had a tremendous natural roar. However, he refused to study, had no discipline and little work ethic because he knew he was naturally good. He lacked the qualities (core values) required by the “scarer” school, so they cut him. While on the surface this seemed like a good decision, it masked the real issue. The fact was that the school lacked the talent to manage people like Mike and to show them the way to being productive.
There are many raw talents like Scully who require a bit of different training. Because they are so talented, they see the world differently than others. Naturally gifted people operate through a different lens and need to be managed through a different lens. This is a hard pill to swallow, but just look in the sales departments of most companies. Look at the top sales people. It is rare to find a sales person that performs at exceptionally high levels that is not difficult to manage. The training, support, communications, etc. needed with them is different. If you do not have a manager that comprehends that, you lose your star and a lot of sales.
So the real lesson with Scully is that most of the time, organization is not equipped with good managers. They do not know how to convert raw talent into great employees. Great managers can help take difficult employees and help them work in the overall organization. To be a great company, you need some very talented people and many times that comes with some counterbalances.