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What Shrek has to teach us
The Globe and Mail, April 18, 2003

By Peter Urs Bender

As adults, there are certain things we don't voluntarily talk about to others. One of them, I have discovered, is watching children's movies. Another is admitting what an outstanding management tool today's children's movies can be.
     Take Shrek, for example. When I ask managers in my seminars if they have seen the 2001 movie, eight out of 10 say yes. And they all love it. But none connect the big green ogre to leadership until we start to talk about it.
     The main difference between a manager and a leader is that a manager follows the rulebook. The leader knows the rules, but has the ability to move around them when needed.
     I believe that leadership-p is based on five elements and, directly or indirectly, Shrek demonstrates every one of them in a way that leaves you laughing and nodding agreement.

Know Yourself

     It's the first and most important element of leadership. We all grow up being led or falling into occupations through the guidance of parents, teachers, ministers, priests, rabbis and mullahs. What you end up in might be the right occupation for you - or not. But I guarantee that if you want to be successful and happy you must be in an occupation to which you were born, or which has chosen you.
     Shrek completely accepted himself as an ogre but didn't define himself by what others saw. As he said: Ogres are like onions, they have many layers. He proved ogres could be heroes and kings as well.

Integrity and Honesty

     These qualities have become buzzwords in today's business even though, if recent events say anything, they have been more honoured in the breach than in the observance.
     Yet personal integrity is a critical component of modern leadership. You can mislead yourself, your employees and your bosses and get away with it for a while. But sooner or later you will pay the penalty.
     Shrek never had a problem about being true to himself, his king or his friends. He was clearly focused on the task ahead, and was honest with everyone around him.

Protect others

     Concern for others is a hallmark of a modern leader.
     In the past, some - perhaps even most - managers were first-class blamers, grabbers, and egotists. They were quick to pass off their failings on others and more than willing to throw others off a cliff to save themselves.
     The modern leader should have a more sharing, caring, approach - the first to take the blame when things go wrong and give credit to others when things go right. Shrek is a perfect example. When he was in the castle being chased by a fire-breathing dragon, he could have escaped alone and then explained to the kind why it wasn't his fault. But his concern was for the donkey and the princess. He made sure to take them with him.


     One of the things modern elders of outstanding companies have rejected is the old-fashioned top-down management, where orders come down through the ranks, and workers are expected to obey without questions. Instead, they are embracing an open approach, where employees at all levels are considered part of the team and communications lines are open from bottom to top as well as top to bottom. There is a movement to communicate honestly and effectively, and to short-circuit the grapevine.
     Shrek learned the lesson the hard way - by jumping to conclusions after hearing part of a conversation that was not meant for him. He made decisions based on his misunderstanding. Instead of clarifying what was said. But in the end, he listened, learned, and was able to undo his mistake and put things right.

Take Risks

     When were you last really scared? If you can't remember, think about doing it soon. To make changes in your life, department, company, you have to take risks - and that is frightening. Risks don't guarantee success, but if we do what we've always done, we'll get what we've always gotten. The ability to take risks comes from within. It's easy to tell others to take risks while sitting in a comfortable corner office overlooking the battlefield.
     But the only truly effective modern leader takes the risk of stepping into his workers' shoes at least once a year.
     Shrek is a risk-taker. He has the mentality of a daredevil. He scares himself regularly, and doesn't mind admitting it. But he lows ahead regardless. He took the risk of going on an impossible journey to find and rescue a princess he didn't even know. He encountered dozens of obstacles, but he persevered and won more than he imagined.
     So rent a kid, watch the video and learn a few lessons in modern leadership from a big green ogre.

Peter Urs Bender is one of Canada's most dynamic and entertaining business speakers. He lives and works out of Toronto. He is the author of four best-selling business books: Leadership from Within, Secrets of Power Presentations, Secrets of Power Marketing,, Secrets of Face-to-Face Communication, and Gutfeeling.
To read excerpts from his books visit

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