What Lightning McQueen and Doc Hudson can teach us about how change affects our staff differently

If any of you have boys aged between 3 and 10, chances are you’ve seen the Disney/Pixar film “Cars” more times than you’ve seen Star Wars.

And just like Star Wars, by the time you’ve seen the movie more than 10 times you start to look for hidden meaning in the characters and dialogue. But unlike Star Wars, which teaches us about good versus evil and the idea of sacrificing yourself for something larger, Cars teaches us something we can take into the workplace. It presents a great insight into how different types of people cope with change.

So for those that haven’t seen the movie let me give you a quick overview of the plot. A racing car by the name of Lightning McQueen is on the verge of becoming the first Rookie to win the championship and has to travel to California, for a winner takes all final race. On route he gets lost in the dark and ends up in a town in the middle of nowhere, where he proceeds to tear up the main road, due to having no lights. Did you know racing cars don’t have lights?

Enter our next character, Doc Hudson. Doc is the local judge, but also unbeknown to the rest of the town, an ex championship-winning racing car. A racing car that after a horrific crash, was left to ruin by the racing community. When he sees Lightning in his court, his immediate reaction is to throw him out and get him out of the town as quickly as possible. But against his judgement the rest of the townsfolk want Lightning to stay and repair the broken road.

Needless to say, in true Disney style, Lightning fixes the road, gets to know the people of the town, becomes their friend and learns some valuable life lessons on the way to eventually getting to California for the race.

So what has this got to do with how change affects your staff differently I hear you say?

It helps us understand the difference between how extroverts and introverts deal with changes in their circumstances or environment.

The Extrovert

Lightning McQueen is a stereotyped extrovert with an inflated ego to boot. As an extrovert, he gets his energy from the energy of others. He loves the big crowds and needs to be amongst other high energy people to be motivated.

His Change:
He now finds himself in a completely different environment. A sleepy town with laid back people. Asked to do an entirely different job to what he believes is his purpose.

His Vision:
He’s been given a clear end goal. He is told he can only leave the town once the road has been fixed.

So what does an extrovert do in this situation?

1) He accepts his new reality very quickly, embracing the change faster than others. He wants to get cracking on fixing the road straight away.

2) He then rushes forward as quickly as possible to make the goal a reality. He mends the road in less than a minute.

3) Leaves a mess behind him, both in his output and relationships with people. The road is not fixed properly, it’s bumpy and unusable and the town is shocked.

4) He is left disheartened. The fact he has to go back and start the road again, but this time at a pace much slower than his energy levels are comfortable with, makes him disillusioned.

The problem is, once presented with a vision, extroverted people have a tendency to rush forward without a clear game plan. They want to get to the end goal as quickly as possible.

As leaders, you need to be cognisant of this and find ways to channel their energy and enthusiasm without allowing them to move too quickly ahead. You need to present a clear game plan and strategy for the change, so as to keep them on track.
The Introvert

Now let’s look at the introvert, Doc Hudson. As an introvert, he gets his energy from himself. He doesn’t need other people around him to get motivated. In addition, he has not dealt particularly well with change in the past. He still has a lot of anger around the loss of his racing career and sees Lightning McQueen’s presence in the town as a horrible reminder of that.

His Change:
Lightning McQueen’s presence changes his secluded status quo.

His Vision:
To get Lightning McQueen out of his town.

So what does an introvert do in this situation?

1) He resists. He’s being pushed into something he doesn’t want or understand fully, so he resists the change. His immediate reaction is just to throw Lightning out of the town and not deal with the reality of the situation.

2) Wants to understand the detail. When he realises the change is going to happen irrespective of his personal resistance, the introvert looks to understand the detail. And this requires time. Doc spends a long time in the early stages of the film very distant from Lightning’s interactions. This is his time of reflection and understanding.

3) Get involved in the detail and start to take action. The introvert then wants to be involved in the detail and the decision making. As the movie moves on he takes on a much more hands-on role, looking to teach Lightning some valuable life lessons.

For an introvert, it is important that you give them time, detail and an opportunity for feedback in order that they can better understand the change or even influence it. Push them too quickly and they will just continue to resist.

Maybe I’m spending too much time trying to extract meaning from cartoons I’m being forced to watch for the hundredth time by my son. Or maybe there is a valuable lesson we can all learn next time we see our staff reacting in different ways to the inevitable changes that our businesses are having to go through during this digital age.

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