Thought Leader: Dr Seuss’ lessons for my son

Every night before bedtime my son Joshua curls up next to me and we read Dr Seuss books on my iPad. We go through stories about the Grinch who stole Christmas, the Lorax, Horton the elephant and his favourite cat in the hat. I have to admit I like reading those books too. The good doctor’s succinct and simple messages can teach us adults thing or two about leadership. Some would say the wisdom of Dr Seuss is even more pertinent today than last century.
The best lessons on leadership are in Dr Seuss’ final book before his death Oh, the places you’ll go.

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.”

New Zealand requires more leaders who set long-term goals and actively go about achieving them with conviction if we are to lift ourselves out of the bottom quartile of the OECD. It’s great to see the NZ Business Council for Sustainable Development has Vision 2050 and that iwi are also setting long-term 50-year plans as they prepare for intergenerational wealth production.
It would be fantastic if our government could conceptualise 50-year vision to which we could all aspire. We can only be strong if all sectors of our society work harmoniously as equals, with the Government as glue, to achieve brighter future for our children.

“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… And will you succeed? Yes! You will indeed! (98 and ¾ percent guaranteed).”

We Kiwis have lot going for us. We rank among the happiest in the OECD and are known around the world as very friendly. I believe this is driven by our familial roots, inclusive culture and nonchalant “she’ll be right” outlook.
Yet Kiwis, in general, lack strong consistent attitude of success across many sectors of New Zealand. Australians generally have that winning attitude. They are also the largest international owners of New Zealand’s businesses, land and assets. I know you don’t want to hear it but… while we need to be Kiwi, we also need to be more Australian in our approach.

“Today you are you. That is truer than true! There is no one alive who is more you’er than you.”

There’s power in being present, self-reflective and authentic in how you lead. Knowing where you come from, your strengths and weaknesses, and having an absolute belief in where you are going helps you achieve this. The word “authentic” is thrown around too much in leadership circles. Few people really know what it means. To me, authenticity is continuous journey but it starts with being comfortable that your “you” is good enough to be leader in whatever role you may have.
As I ponder the increasingly complex world that Joshua will grow up in, he brings me the iPad. He’s ready to go through some more e-books before bed. We start reading about persistent Sam trying to sell his green eggs and ham. Dr Seuss’ leadership lessons can act as an enduring and worthy guide for our children as they forge bright future for New Zealand. They can also help us as adults strive to leave the right legacy for them. Long live Seuss. M

Dan Walker is an alumnus of Leadership NZ’s 2011 programme and was named Young Maori Leader at last year’s Aotearoa Maori Business Leader Awards.

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