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Leadership Lessons from Dr. Seuss

By Nikki Dy-Liacco

Nikki Dy-Liacco This week would have marked the 107th birthday of the late Theodor Seuss Geisel, fondly known to all of us as Dr. Seuss. His colorful and best-selling stories Green Eggs and Ham, The Cat in the Hat and How the Grinch Stole Christmas have captured the hearts of kids and kids-at-heart around the world. I still love reading my pop-up book of Oh, The Places You'll Go! and enjoyed the movie adaptation of Horton Hears a Who! from a couple of years ago.

Quotable quotes from Dr. Seuss continue to remind me of important life lessons. As I am currently preparing for an upcoming Leadership Development Program, a little light bulb went off in my head: there is also a lot to learn from Dr. Seuss on leadership! After a quick Google search, I realize that others have had the same a-ha moment. But because I am a big fan, I couldn’t not write this blog. In the spirit of freezy-breeze-made-these-three-trees-freeze-alliteration, here are a few C’s on leadership:

  • Camaraderie. The all-time favorite The Cat in the Hat has a great line: “It is fun to have fun, but you have to know how.” Building true camaraderie in the workplace goes beyond just having fun for fun’s sake. I like how the Great Place to Work Institute defines camaraderie as one of their five dimensions; it is the ability to be oneself; a socially friendly and welcoming atmosphere; and a sense of “family” or “team” in the company. Leaders play a critical role in creating and sustaining a culture of authentic camaraderie. Their visibility and accessibility (especially of senior leaders), as well as the way they recognize and reward employees both formally and informally, can make a huge difference in making a company a great (and fun!) place to work.
  • Commitment. The Lorax promises, “I speak for the trees. I speak for the trees for the trees have no tongues.” Unfortunately, not all leaders stand firm behind their teams, speak on their behalf, defend their direct reports as needed, or give credit where credit is due. It cannot be stressed enough how organizations need leaders who are committed to their teams and who can be trusted by their people. Through their behaviors and decisions, leaders must earn that trust every day. Their values must be visible through their actions, and they must walk-the-talk, and be both able and willing to be held up as an example to others. “I meant what I said and I said what I meant,” goes the line in Horton Hears a Who! “An elephant’s faithful one-hundred percent!”
  • Confidence... not just in themselves, but more importantly, in others and especially in their teams. Organizations need leaders who encourage others to fly high: “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. Oh! The Places You’ll Go! You’ll be on your way up! You’ll be seeing great sights! You’ll join the high fliers who soar to high heights.” In our white paper on Leadership Beliefs, leaders need to coach and set others up for success, to give up the limelight and let others shine—which also mean leaders need a strong, not a big, ego. Leaders who are secure about their own accomplishments and achievements are comfortable to take the back seat and truly enjoy seeing others learn, grow and succeed (98 and ¾ percent guaranteed!).
  • Continuous learning. In I Can Read with My Eyes Shut, Dr. Seuss writes: “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” Imagine if all leaders took charge of their own professional development (which goes beyond just reading of course) instead of waiting to be sent to an assessment center or assigned a new project? A client recently shared with me how he wishes leaders would see their and their direct reports’ Individual Development Plans as a fluid process; not just an annual chore or a compliance document with check boxes to tick off, but an ongoing journey to improved performance and better results.

What are your favorite leadership or life lessons from Dr. Seuss or any other children’s book?

Nikki Dy-Liacco is DDI’s Marketing Manager for South East Asia.

Posted: 03 Mar, 2011,
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