A Leader’s Lesson From Disney’s Moana

Posted by David Grossman on Tue,Feb 07, 2017

Steve and I took Avi and Noa to see Disney’s Moana recently, which is a wonderful tale about a young girl who leaves the safety of her island to save her people. Along the way, she has amazing adventures and learns a ton about herself.

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Early on in the animated tale, the 16-year-old Moana ponders leaving her island, which no one in her family or tribe ever does. Her father has made it perfectly clear: “Going beyond the reef is forbidden.”

“Everyone is so happy on this island,” she sings in lament. Yet she senses a need for something more, which is out there, “where the sun meets the sky.”

At one point, we see her standing at the edge of her island thinking about what’s beyond. Here are some of the lyrics in one of her centerpiece songs, “How Far I’ll Go.”

  I've been staring at the edge of the water
  Long as I can remember, never really knowing why

  I wish I could be the perfect daughter
  But I come back to the water, no matter how hard I try


  Every turn I take, every trail I track
  Every path I make, every road leads back

  To the place I know where I cannot go
  Where I long to be


  See the line where the sky meets the sea? It calls me
  And no one knows, how far it goes

  If the wind in my sail on the sea stays behind me
  One day I'll know

  If I go there's just no telling how far I'll go

“I Want” is a Powerful Way to Engage Any Listener

“How Far I’ll Go” helps us know Moana’s desire for more in life: “The light at the end of the sea is blinding….and it seems like it’s calling out to me….will I cross that line?”

In storytelling terms, every great tale has an “I want” song like “How Far I’ll Go.” Think, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” from The Wizard of Oz or “The Wizard and I” from Wicked or “Something’s Coming” from West Side Story.

It’s the hero or heroine’s wish for the future. A dream for something she seeks. About the journey that she’s considering. Or what might be possible if she takes a chance to improve her life.

Every Leader Needs an “I Want” Song

There’s plenty of information disguised as communication in the workplace today. What’s needed is even more inspiration to help drive engagement.

A savvy leader said recently at an executive team meeting I was facilitating, “You help me with the information and I’ll provide the inspiration.” Brilliant!

Articulating and sharing what you “want” can create a strong emotional connection with others and be hugely inspiring and motivating.

Note that “I want” isn’t about telling people what to do. It’s about inspiring them with an outcome or aspiration, and looking to them to create the path to get there.

Every Leader Needs to Be Able to Articulate an Aspiration

An aspiration often comes in the form of “Imagine” statements: “Imagine if we could…”

What makes a good “imagine” statement? It should: 

  • Tie to your goals
  • Describe a compelling image of what’s possible and what you’re trying to create
  • Appeal to others to share in the future you envision
  • When possible, show others how they benefit

Phrases to Drive Inspiration

Here are some starter phrase options to help you create your own imagine statements:

  • “Imagine if we could...”
  • “What if we could…”
  • “How might we…”
  • “Might there be any way we could…”
  • “I envision…”
  • “In my mind’s eye, I see…”

The good news is that your “Imagine” statements don’t need to rhyme, nor be put to song.  Inspirational “Imagine” statements paint a picture of what’s possible and invite others to join in the journey.

Your “I want” in the workplace – done well – turns into other’s “I want.” 

“I want that, and I’ll help you get there.” And isn’t that what engagement is all about?

What do you want, and how are you communicating what you imagine?

—David Grossman

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    What does it take to be a leadercommunicator?

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