What Leaders Can Learn From Inception

Last week I saw Inception. What a fantastic film! I highly recommend seeing it.

Without spoiling anything, here’s a general look at the plot:

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Dom Cobb, played by DiCaprio, is a professional extractor. He has the ability to go inside people’s dreams and extract (or steal) information.

Of course, since Cobb is basically a thief, he’s on the run from the law.

Cobb is offered a chance to have his record cleared so he can return to the USA and see his children. He’s offered this provided he’ll take on one last job. The job, however, is a bit different than the types of jobs he’s used to doing. Instead of stealing information by using extraction, he’s asked to plant an idea/story/information inside someone’s mind using inception.

It’s a tail of corporate espionage.

Get it?

OK. Here’s what I believe leaders and those in a leadership role can learn from Inception.

A big part of a leadership role is preparing those around you for the future. Of course, the future is unknown.

So how does a leader/boss/manager prepare those around him for an unknown and unpredictable future?

If you guessed, “Inception,” you’re right. You get a gum ball.

Leaders use stories to paint pictures of the future. It’s the same as setting goals. It’s the same as positive thinking.  Leaders paint pictures of what’s to come.

The idea is to create a story for those you lead and plant it inside their heads.

A word of caution. Stories need to be told in much the same way as they are in the film Inception. They have to be believable. Therefore, the leader knows he must paint a positive picture. Our minds will fill in the rest of the details. The leaders goal is to prepare us for the unknown future by using a positive story.

Steve Jobs might tell the story about the life-changing possibilities the iPhone 4 will bring to Apple’s customers. It’s THAT story that inspires those working at Apple to go beyond the edge and create a remarkable product.

If Steve’s story fails to convince the employees that the iPhone 4 will change lives, and instead his story is, “we’ll increase revenue by 20% in this quarter,” or in other words, his words and story do not inspire them.  He fails.

And here’s the worst part of it. If there’s no Inception – everyone of your employees is left in limbo. And limbo is forever.

Wake up!