Leadership Lessons from Toy Story 3

(Warning:  Toy Story 3 plot spoiler.)

A Lotso lurks in all of us.

In Disney’s Toy Story 3, Woody, Buzz, and the other toys are mistakenly sent off to Sunnyside Daycare where they meet up with the daycare Toylord, Lotso.  While he smells like strawberries, Lotso is anything but sweet.  Instead, this big, pink teddy bear rules Sunnyside with an iron meat mallet; thwarting justice for all the toys who are forced to finish out their existence under the gaze of his control.  Kindness and pretense of concern are tools used for emotional control and when that doesn’t work, physical oppression serves to secure power.

Lotso’s leadership schema is built on the pain of the past.  Like gauze wrapped around a seeping wound, cruel and calculated bitterness safeguard Lotso’s broken heart.  Rejected by the one he believed loved him, Lotso is no longer able to give or receive love.  His worth as a person is now tied up in the role he plays.  And so he does what many of us do who can’t face our pain–we lock down freedom and shut out love.

A Lotso lurks in all of us who lead—parents, coaches, bosses, managers, teachers, pastors, alike.  He lurks in the shadows of our hearts, telling us we can right wrongs of the past by what we can control today.  He is anywhere power is used for the good of self instead of for those we lead.  He is anywhere people are exploited for what they can do, rather than esteemed for who they are in God’s image.

Lotso, like many leaders, think leadership is about greatness.  He with the most power, most influence, most persuasion, wins.

Jesus had a different idea about leadership—and it is one that every Lotso, myself included, must confront.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.  Each of you should look not to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus”  (Philippians 2:3-4).

How can we as leaders avoid the Lotso Affect?

  1. Resist the urge to right life’s wrongs through the things you can control–instead hand over your disappointments, rejections, and wounds to the Lord and His healing.  Tightly controlling things will not heal you; it will only hurt others.  Make no mistake:  Everyone’s past is a part of their current reality.  Will you lead through a past that has been redeemed by and reconciled to the cross?  Or will you perpetuate your pain through inflicting hurt on others by guilting them to therapy your wounds and losses?
  2. Recognize your worth comes from who you are; not from what you do.  When we know who God has declared us to be before the foundation of the earth in the secret place with Him (Ps. 139:15), we can assume a humble position in life, like our Lord.  What possibly can I prove about myself  that will make me more fearfully and wonderfully made?
  3. Serve others for their good.  Look deeply into the eyes of others and ask the Lord to show you for what greatness He has created them…then partner with Him in helping it come to pass.  Our destiny is not the landfill, as the toys at Sunnyside Daycare believed.  Our destiny is the presence of God, reflecting His image in all its glory (2 Cor. 3:18).

Greatness—true greatness—will never be found in subverting justice.  Whenever those who are called to lead, lead from self-imposed power and control instead of from sincere love and service, justice unravels at the seams.

If, like Ken and Barbie, we want to make life groovy for those in our realm of influence, we must seek a fresh calling from the Lord today to lead people deeper into their original callings.  If man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, than those of us who lead—wherever that may be—must make God our chief enjoyment so that others may be recipients of His righteousness, peace and joy through us.

Where do you lead?  How are you calling out other’s greatness through serving them?  Are there any people who you lead–children, employees, athletes–that you are looking to for enjoyment that should be found only in God?