12 Unforgettable Leadership Lessons From The Lion King
I saw The Lion King for the first time in July 2019. I have not seen it again since then but it has stayed with me. I kept reflecting on the movie and how things played out — planned and unplanned and how it affected the inhabitants of Pride Rock. Let me introduce you to the cast.
Mufasa is the capable and undisputed king of Pride Rock, who enjoys grooming his son, Simba for the responsibility that lies ahead of him. Mufasa believes in succession planning and the only way to keep and protect the kingdom is to prepare the future leaders for the challenges and complexities of leadership. Sarabi, his loving and loyal wife, is with him on this journey. Though she is fine in the shadows of Mufasa, she is respected. Her quiet strength is known both by her family and the inhabitants of Pride Rock. Both parents join efforts to raise Simba to be who he needs to be.
And then there was Scar. He feels overlooked, unwanted and undervalued. No matter the assurances he gets from his brother, Mufasa, he feels he has been left behind or forgotten in the scheme of things. As such, he schemes his way and forms unholy alliances with folks with a different vision of how Pride Rock should be run. He has two obstacles to eliminate; Mufasa and his son, Simba. Simba is really not an issue but how can he take on Mufasa “The Iroko” in this life or the one to come, is a combination lock that he must unlock.
Simba, is destined to rule Pride Rock after his dad’s demise. It is his inheritance to rule but he must learn the robes. The position is hereditary but the responsibility has to be learnt. Simba is too young to understand what is going on. He has time; so he thinks but then….. life happened. The king died and he is the main suspect.
The stage is set for the intrigue to begin. This is where the rubber meets the road and I will take it from here. The leadership lessons commences.
1. Life Is Not Fair: Simba would have learnt leadership first hand from his father. That would have been the equivalent of being Harvard-trained in leadership and management. Mufasa’s School of Leadership was one of a kind. Who wouldn’t want to be trained by the greatest and the bravest? But life happened. Simba lived with the traumatic reality that he killed his father; as his uncle informed him. That trauma led him to make a number of decisions that moved him away from realising his potentials. Leaders will make mistakes. They will make wrong judgement calls but it is what happens after these incidences that determines the future. Thankfully Simba got his life together and took the fight back to Scar.
2. Build Bridges Before You Need Them: Relationship is ultra-important. Maintaining them is hard but necessary. Sarabi kept the pride intact even in hard times. She did not leave them to the mercies of Scar when things got rough. She kept her loyalty to what was true. Her reluctance to join forces with Scar to ravish the kingdom was remarkable. It was a tough call but she was loyal to the philosophies that she and her family believed — the circle of life. The circle of life signifies nature’s way of taking and giving back and symbolizes life as being both divine and sacred. Scar built his own bridges and used them but as you know, evil can only reign for a time. Scar fulfilled his promise to the hyenas (mercenaries). He told them, “When I am king, the mighty will be able to take whatever they want.” But when things went south, they had him for a meal.
3. Leadership Is Not Positional: Sarabi was an understated leader in the movie. She was rarely seen but her impact and resilience in upholding the value of Mufasa’s legacy was the platform that Simba rode on. Imagine if she had sold out. It would have been difficult for Simba to return. She knew her position in the kingdom and did not give up even when there was no hope in the horizon. Every one leads from a different place and strata. Leadership needs everyone on board to play their role.
4. Take On Issues: Simba ran away from his troubles with the hope that they will evaporate. It is the same philosophy that makes men drink their problems away. What they don’t know is that diabetes and liver disease waits on the other side of the divide. Also, sorrow has learnt how to swim out of alcohol; with the speed and agility even better than Michael Phelps. What you do not face, confront and resolve comes back to haunt you. Jacob ran away from Esau. The next time they met Esau had 400 men. If not for divine intervention, he would have been smoked. Simba had to come back to sort out the issues he ran away from. Those issues never leave; until resolved.
5. Succession Planning: Mufasa’s life seems to be about the kingdom and Simba. He was dedicated to raising a leader that will sustain the kingdom. That was why he took out time to teach about the philosophies that guide the kingdom (an important one being the circle of life). Scar had no interest in succession; it was about — what can we get today and now. The difference between the two leaders showed during their reigns.
6. What You Do With Power Matters: Mufasa knew who he was and did not try to assert himself until it was required. That is why he told his son that he only showed bravery when it was absolutely necessary. He used his power to keep the kingdom going; wade off the bad guys and ensure provision was available for all. Scar was interested in injecting fear into the kingdom. He wanted everyone to know he was in-charge. He “hired” the hyenas to lockdown the kingdom. Fear was his weapon of leadership. He used it to the maximum but fear is not a sustainable strategy. It failed woefully.
7. Value Alignment: As a leader choose your values and find a way to systemize those values — ensure that those values run in the vein of that organization. Mufasa valued harmony and the circle of life and as such, there was peace and prosperity in his reign. Even after his death, his people were loyal to his ideals though they suffered for it. Scar valued oppression and as such bound him with the hyenas. He brought terror into the kingdom but when the tide turned against him, the hyenas took their pounds of flesh. Those who live by the sword die by the sword. Values matter. QED.
8. Who Are You?: Don’t forget yourself while leading. There is no need to assert your authority unduly. Everyone knew who Mufasa was. He did not have to stress about it. He had his weaknesses (he loved his son dearly) and inadequacies. Trying to lead like someone else is the easiest way to fail. When you are not genuine, your people can see through you and respond in kind. When Scar was in power, the people were looking for a leader that will lead and when Simba showed up, it was easy for them to rally behind him. People are waiting to be lead.
9. Balance Is Key: The rhythm of balance is one thing a leader must keep. Building the structure to sustain that balance is the main work of leadership. When it is done the organisation works like a well-choreographed symphony. Mufasa kept everyone happy. He drew the boundary with the evil guys and gave them their space to run. He kept his own space. When Scar was in power he had no interest in balance. He took everything for himself and his cohorts. The rest could go to hell if they so wished.
“Everything you see exists together in a delicate balance. As king, you need to understand that balance and respect all the creatures, from the crawling ant to the leaping antelope.” –Mufasa
10. Leadership Has A Time Limit: Leaders come and go. Positions change. Life is dynamic. Those who do not know this oppress others when they are in power. They forget. Positional power can be intoxicating. People bowing and singing your praises can be enchanting. Mufasa knew this and hence he told Simba “A king’s time as ruler rises and falls like the sun”. Even the sun, as seen from the earth, is not perpetually in one position. Leadership is not for forever. Once there was a monarchy, then the military, afterwards the people ran the affairs of government (democracy).
11. Do-It-Afraid: While leading, you will not always have all the jigs of the puzzle. Sometimes you will have 70% of the required information but being decisive is key. Taking no decision is a decision. Simba had to go back and face Scar. He was afraid (he knew the consequences of his actions) but he had to do what he had to do. With no alliance and no promise of an army that will support his mission, he launched out. He knew that failure was not an option but he had to put his life on the line because he was born to cater for Pride Rock (especially when he got the report of the awful state of things). Purpose called out to him; he answered as afraid as he was. He faced his fears; he went home. Epic.
12. Hakuna Matata — Sometimes: Lions are not born to Hakuna Matata. Leadership is responsibility and responsibility means you cannot live a carefree life. There is time for Hakuna Matata but you cannot live like that all your life. Nala reminded him what he was born for and encouraged him to take the plunge and do what he had to do — go home and face the reason why you were born.
The Lion King makes for great viewing but while you are at it, learn the lessons. I look forward to another movie that I will make me feel this way. The way you make me feel….pararararara!!!!!!!
You can check out my other works on personal development Asking, Managing Access In Relationships How To Ask, Authenticity, Life Skill: The Power of Saying “No”, and Now I Arise. I also reviewed The Lion King and wrote about Movies That Shaped me.
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