Five Lessons from Cars 3 About Transition & Legacy

For Father’s Day my children took me to see Cars 3. It’s a coming of age, old age that is, story about the last lap of Lightning McQueen. Spoiler alert. I think there are some leadership lessons worth considering from the film.

Whether you are in a ministry or business context, the latest installment of talking automobiles from the Cars franchise provides a helpful illustration of principles for leadership transitions.

First, others will likely realize you need to transition before you, at least before you are willing to admit it. You can tell that those around McQueen are supportive of him, but seem to be holding back from telling him the truth, that he is past the prime of his career. McQueen fights it for most of the film, but in the end he decides to channel his accomplished career into the life of another racer.

Second, you can easily miss your window of opportunity to transition well. McQueen waits until it is nearly too late. A lot of leaders probably wait until it’s too late too.

Third, we should look at the transition of strong leaders more like the passing of the baton and less like throwing in the towel. That seems to be the transformative idea that redirects McQueen’s plans. He might be closing a chapter, but it’s not the end of the book. There might even be greater adventures in the pages that follow.

Fourth, transitioning well means you have to let someone else get the win. But that shouldn’t mean it has to be someone on a different team. Why not let your team win with someone else, someone other than you, in the spotlight. McQueen could take a respectable place in the top ten or transfer the lead role to a younger racer with unbridled potential. That takes a great deal of humility and a healthy dose of wisdom. It’s also risky. But hey, someone took a risk on you once.

Finally, we need coaches. We need mentors. McQueen ends the race wearing a headset and cheering from the sideline. That’s not a less influential role than being on the race track. In many ways, it is more. It’s also a great picture of what it looks like to transition well.