Leadership Lessons from the Lion King

Lion King leadership
While watching the Lion King last night, I couldn’t help but think of Simon Sinek’s quote, “There are leaders and then there those who lead.” It’s like the old leadership proverb, “He who thinks he leads, but has no followers, is merely taking a walk.”

For those unfamiliar with the story, Scar is the disgruntled brother of the king. In his scheme to take over the kingdom, Scar tries to kill his brother and his nephew at the same time (Simba, the heir). During Scar’s brief reign, everything falls to pieces: the herd leaves, there’s no food, the once-fertile earth is barren.

So what kind of important lessons does this show us?

  • Leadership is not based on position: When Scar was elevated to the position of king of pride rock, he thought everyone would follow him and obey his commands. In fact, even though the pride of lions accepted his position, his poor decision making and lack of influence prevented them from accepting him as a leader.
  • People don’t care how much you know unless they know how much you care: The other lions preferred to starve than to serve – they felt betrayed. The only people that supported Scar were the hyenas because they thought that he was their friend. However, once they saw his true colors, they turned on him as well.
  • Leaders know who they are: Not even Simba’s best friend and love interest could convince him to return and lead. Simba needed to remember who he was. People can’t lead from a position of insecurity or fear (like Scar), they can only lead effectively when they understand their position and influence (like Mufasa).
  • The past should provide a lesson, not a crutch or a prison: Too often, organizations have a romanticized notion of the past and believe that their legacy ill ensure future success. The other extreme is holding onto a past failure as an excuse to take risks. Simba refused to go back to Pride Rock because he was afraid of confronting his past, which was detrimental to his organization. On the other hand, Scar assumed that by maintaining the status quo, things would eventually improve or the problems would disappear. Both were wrong.
  • Leaders must be learners: Simba only grew as a leader when he was willing to learn from others – from his father, from Rafiki (the bamboon), and Zazu (the hornbill bird). Leadership is learned daily, not in a day. True leaders commit to perpetual growth, discovery, and learning.

As I was watching this, I couldn’t help think of how much our idea of leadership has been created through archetypes presented in mythology, religion, children’s stories, and legends. In many ways, I believe that we instinctively grasp who great leaders are, even if we don’t instinctively know how to become great leaders ourselves. Perhaps consciously reflecting on these stories can help get us a little closer. If anything, at least it is entertaining.


2 thoughts on “Leadership Lessons from the Lion King

  1. And so many times, knowing you are a leader is a matter of saying it to yourself and acting “as if” you are a leader until it becomes reality. Developing the image of self as leader, while maintaining honest humility takes work, practice, and repetition.

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