Quotes And Leadership Lessons From Onward

A Reel Leadership Article

Had I not seen the previews for the movie Onward, I don’t think Pam and I would have gone to see it. The title was nondescript and didn’t inspire anything in me to see the movie. However, the previews convinced us to see this new movie.

And I’m glad I did.

Onward Tom Holland as the voice of Ian Lightfoot, Chris Pratt as Barley Lightfoot, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus as the voice of Laurel Lightfoot. Ian lost his dad before he was born. On his 16th birthday, his mother, Laurel, presented him and his brother Barley with a magical staff.

Promotional image for the movie Onward. Ian and Barley sitting on top of van

His father, Wilden Lightfoot (Kyle Bornheimer), had left it for his sons. He told Laurel to give it to them when they were old enough. Along with the staff was a magic incantation to bring him back for 24 hours.

When the spell goes wrong and the Phoenix Stone breaks apart before Wilden’s body is fully formed, the boys are left with a very leggy father figure. His top half did not form!

Onward brings you on one emotional journey until the end. Then it hits you with the big one.

But, more than the emotional journey, Reel Leaders will be brought on a journey of leadership and personal development. Today’s Reel Leadership article with discuss the leadership lessons in Onward and what you can do to become a better leader.

Quotes And Leadership Lessons From Onward

1. Wilden Lightfoot:

But it wasn’t easy to master.

Onward opens with a scene from the past. There were mystical creatures and magic. Slowly, the magic began to go away.

Those who used it found it hard to use. Harder to master. There were new inventions to help with things such as lighting fires (electricity).

Still, magic shouldn’t have faded away as it did. Magic had its place in their world. But, because of the difficulty of mastering magic, people let it fade away.

Leaders, your job is not easy. It shouldn’t be easy. Especially to master.

You will struggle. You will toil. And you will feel a heavy, heavy burden while leading.

This is normal. This is the way it is and will be.

Don’t look for easy. Look for worthwhile.

2. Barley Lightfoot:

There’s a mighty warrior inside you. You just have to let it out.

Barley was Ian’s older brother. He was a card game geek. His favorite was Quests Of Yore.

Despite his quirks, Barley was a solid brother. He loved Ian and wanted to see the best for him.

One of the things Barley saw was the greatness within Ian. He saw a warrior in Ian. He knew what Ian could become and he encouraged Ian.

Do you see the mighty warriors in those you lead? The people you lead all have greatness in them. As a leader, it is your responsibility to pull their greatness out of them.

Encourage them when they do good work. Tell them how they are helping the organization grow. Let them know you believe in them.

When you do this, your team members will gain confidence. They will begin to believe what you believe.

3. See how to apply your hobbies to your work:

Barley was fascinated with a game called Quests Of Yore. It was a game similar to Magic: The Gathering. Because of his love for the game, Barley saw applications from the game everywhere.

When Ian and Barley went on their adventure, Barley pulled out cards from Quests Of Yore. He believed they would guide them. And they did.

They met Corey the Manticore (Octavia Spencer) at the Manticore Tavern because two of the cards were part of the gaming set. They took the Path Of Peril because it was part of the card game.

Barley used what he learned from playing a game, one of his hobbies, to lead him and Ian to the remaining Phoenix Stone. His hobby wasn’t just a hobby.

What hobbies to do you? Do you even have a hobby? Did you buy into the lie that leaders shouldn’t have hobbies?

Your hobbies can open your eyes to new solutions in the workplace. Like Barley, you can use your hobbies to understand what is going on.

I’ve used my time ice climbing to share leadership lessons with others. I’ve found leadership lessons in the movies. And even my running helps me to lead better.

You can use your hobbies to become a better leader.

4. You may not be ready to lead:

Ian had to take drivers training. When he had to merge onto a busy highway, he couldn’t. He froze because of the onslaught of traffic.

He had to pull over and relinquish the driver’s seat. His training was over. He wasn’t ready to proceed to the next level of driving.

When you begin to lead, you may feel like Ian. You may feel like you’re not ready to lead. Truthfully, you may not be ready to lead.

Want to know something? It’s okay if you’re not ready to lead. You can take your time to step into a leadership position.

Let the people pushing you into leadership know this. Help them to understand where you’re at.

And, do you know what will happen when you do this? People will step up to help you become ready. BONUS!

5. We think other leaders have always been great leaders:

Ian had met a man at the Burger Shire. There, the man recalled his days with Ian’s father. He told Ian how confident, bold, and cool Wilden had been.

This started the wheels turning in Ian’s head. Was his dad always so confident?

He did what any smart person would do. He went to someone who knew his dad well. His mother.

He asked his mother if his dad had always been confident. She chuckled and told him his father hadn’t always been confident. He had to work at becoming confident.

We often see other leaders in their prime. We see them as they’re crushing leadership or public speaking or project management.

What we don’t see are the steps it took the leader to get there. They had to struggle, just like you. They had to put in time and energy to make things work. You will too if you want to get to the same place they were.

Great leaders don’t get there by accident. They have to work on it. They have to build their skillset. Stop thinking other leaders have always been great.

6. Different people have different skills:

Barley took the staff from his mother and tried to cast the spell. Nothing happened when he held the staff and spoke the magic words. He wondered if the staff was broken.

Ian was sitting at his desk. The staff was laying next to him. He read the words and the staff began to react.

Barley didn’t have the skillset to make the staff work. Ian did.

Much like we get it wrong by thinking every other leader was great with little to no work, we believe everyone should be able to do everything. They can’t. YOU can’t.

We all have different skills. Each person brings something unique to the organization.

Help them to realize their unique skills. Don’t let them feel bad because they can’t do something as well as another team member.

Their unique skills will be what makes them special.

7. Create a list of goals:

Ian had an idea of what he wanted to do with his dad when they brought him back. He had created a list of things to do with his dad.

The list included

  • Play Catch
  • Go On A Walk
  • Take A Driving Lesson
  • Laugh Together

Ian knew what he wanted to do. He wanted to do these things so much that he made a list and referred to it.

These were Ian’s goals…

Do you have a list of things you want to accomplish? These are your goals. And you need them.

You need to know what you want to get done during your time as a leader. You can check things off as you do them.

Having a list of goals will help keep you on track when things try to distract you. You can point back to your list and say “Nope, I can’t do this at this time. These are my goals and I need to accomplish them.”

Goals may seem scary. They may even seem to limit your ability to do things. However, goals are freeing. They tell you what you need to do to get where you want to go.

8. Barley Lightfoot:

You must speak with passion.

Ian tried to cast his first spell outside of the one that brought half of his father back. The spell he tried to cast didn’t work well. It fizzled out and did nothing.

Barley saw Ian wasn’t speaking with passion. Ian didn’t believe in what he was saying.

Barley encouraged Ian to speak with passion. To bring all he had to the spell.

You will have to speak with passion. Speaking with passion shows your team you mean business and you believe in what you are doing.

Make sure your goals are something you can become passionate about. As you become passionate about your goals and what the organization needs to do, your team will begin to catch fire.

Then, you will create magic.

9. Leaders can forget what drew them to leadership:

Corey the Manticore had been a dangerous creature at one point. When Ian and Barley met her, she was a shell of her former self. She was a waitress and manager at the Manticore Tavern.

Everything was sanitary and clean. It was safe and easy to be there.

The Manticore Tavern was a domesticated version of what a Manticore should have been.

Corey had forgotten the danger she lived for. She had forgotten the wildness.

Leaders progress through many stages of leadership. Many of these stages take us to new levels. They also encourage us to forget what got us there.

Never forget where you came from. Or why you chose to take on a position of leadership.

Where you came from, why you left, and why you started will be a driving force behind you being a success. Remember, remember, remember.

10. Barley Lightfoot:

Believe with every step.

Ian and Barley had come to an impasse. There was a bridge on the other side of a chasm but no mechanism to lower it on their side.

On the other side of the chasm was a way to let the bridge down. To get there, Ian would have to cast an invisible bridge spell.

The invisible bridge was just that. INVISIBLE. Ian couldn’t see the bridge. He had to believe it was there.

When he did, he was able to confidently step out and move across the open space.

Leading is scary. It can be difficult, even impossible, to see where the next step is. You will have to step out in faith… on the invisible bridge of leadership.

Be confident in what you’re doing. Believe you are moving in the right direction. Step forward with confidence.

11. You may already have what you desire:

Onward was a touching movie. One of the most touching moments was when Ian realized the list of things he wanted to do with his dad he had already experienced… with Barley.

Barley may not have been his father. However, Barley was a father-figure in his life. Barley allowed him to experience everything Ian wanted to.

Look around you. What kind of team have you built? Who is on your team? How are they relating to one another?

You may have been so busy chasing after the next step of your goal, vision, or mission that you didn’t realize you already have what you desire.

Make sure you’re not chasing after something you already have. We do it far too often…

12. Great leaders sacrifice:

Ian and Barley were eventually able to finish the spell to bring their father back. They only had a few minutes and there was a dragon to be fought.

Ian stepped up. He told Barley to go say goodbye to their father. He would go fight the dragon.

After 16 years of longing to see his father, Ian chose to allow Barley to see their father again and say goodbye. Ian chose to go fight the dragon.


Leaders, leadership isn’t about what you or I can get. Leadership is about helping others get what they want.

Stop hoarding the perks of leadership for yourself. Start serving others. Start helping others get what they need.

13. Our struggles will bring us the confidence we need:

Ian started out as an awkward, unconfident young man in Onward. He was timid and afraid. By the end of Onward, he was a different man.

Ian became confident. He gained friends. He began to live life.

Why? Because he went through major struggles to see his father and help his brother.

You may not like the struggles in your life. You may feel they are unfair or too difficult.

They are not. They are there to help you become the leader you need to become.

Stop being afraid of the struggles in your life. Embrace them. Realize they are helping you to become better.

Question: If you’ve watched Onward, what leadership lessons did you take away from the movie? If you haven’t seen the movie, what Reel Leadership lessons from Onward that I shared resonated with you? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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