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Leadership Lessons from Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

Please note: this article contains spoilers.

Marvel's recent output in its phase IV post The Infinity Saga has been hit and miss. From Black Widow to Black Panther: Wakanda Forever - the films and TV series dealing with the fallout from the Avenger's defeating Thanos and losing Iron Man and Captain America in the aftermath have had the challenging task of filling in loose ends, introducing new characters, and advancing the narrative, all while preparing the audience for The Multiverse Saga of phases 5 and 6. The stakes have been more personal and less exponential except for Loki and Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. It is in this context that Black Panther: Wakanda Forever launches across multiplexes worldwide.

The synopsis of the film goes: Queen Ramonda, Shuri, M'Baku, Okoye and the Dora Milaje fight to protect their nation from intervening world powers in the wake of King T'Challa's death. As the Wakandans strive to embrace their next chapter, the heroes must band together with Nakia and Everett Ross to forge a new path for their beloved kingdom.

Like its predecessor, this movie operates on many levels. Through the lens of leadership, Wakanda Forever might be about recovering from the loss of a charismatic and beloved leader. But this movie is also very much about defending your core values despite the allure of the ego. In the words of our dearly departed Chadwick Boseman:

You have to cherish things in a different way when you know the clock is ticking, you are under pressure.

With this thought in mind, allow me to present five leadership lessons gleaned from this exceptional film.

  1. Traditions matter: At the beginning of the film Princess Shuri is unable to cure her brother - King T'challa of a mysterious illness which leads to his death. In the aftermath of his burial ceremony, one year later, Shuri and her mother Queen Ramonda go to perform a traditional ceremony of burning their funeral garments to end the mourning period. Shuri's scientific beliefs contrast with the long-standing beliefs of her people and she refuses to participate - breaking the chain of established traditions. Leadership Lesson: There is a saying that culture eats strategy for breakfast. The reason this is true is because culture is the foundation upon which leadership is built. What we value, our collective ceremonies and traditions, and our shared values and beliefs are what bond groups together and what enable achievement beyond the sum of the parts involved.

  2. Productive paranoia is necessary: During a convocation of the United Nations, French and American leaders implore Queen Ramonda to share Wakanda's precious vibranium with the rest of the world. At the same time, they are attacking Wakandan outposts in search of the powerful material. But the Wakandans are ready for this gambit and drag the marauders before the world in a show of preparation and continued strength despite the demise of their leader and protector. Leadership Lesson: It is incumbent on leaders to prepare for events that could severely disrupt ongoing operations. This type of preparation is known as productive paranoia and involves creating contingency and continuity plans as well as playing out known and even extreme scenarios. As the saying goes - stay ready so you don't have to get ready.

  3. Evaluate alliances carefully: After finding the vibranium detector and assaulting the ship and crew responsible for identifying their secret supply - the Talokanils led by Namor go to Wakanda to seek an alliance to leverage their combined might to subjugate the world. The terms of this allegiance include the killing of the scientist who developed the technology who turns out to be Riri Williams - a young black scientist attending MIT. Convening the ruling council of Wakanda, it is decided to go extract Riri and protect her from capture and death at the hands of Namor. Leadership Lesson: Collaboration can be powerful if two parties possess shared values. When values are not consistent, however, no promise of success can be sufficient to pursue the partnership. Effective leaders use their values to guide them in gray areas where the perceived benefits can override good sense.

  4. Maintain a fallback position: After Nakia rescues Shuri and Riri from the Talokan people - Namor promises Queen Ramonda that he will kill her. In the ensuing battle on Wakandan territory, the city center is flooded, and the Queen perishes while saving Riri's life. Now in charge, Princess Shuri relocates the rest of her people to the Jabari stronghold in the mountains and finally recreates a synthetic version of the heart shaped herb that manifests the power of the black panther. She also assesses Namor's strengths and produces a plan to defeat him. Leadership Lesson: Sometimes, no amount of forward thinking and planning can prepare for the actuality of certain events. Therefore, business continuity planning is essential for leaders at all levels. In chess this is known as winning from a position of perceived weakness, and the best leaders know how to get the most out of what is left to effectively rebuild and recover from losses.

  5. Eliminate the ego: All film long, Shuri's self-image is under assault. From her inability to save her brother and mother's lives, to getting captured by the Talokanils, to being forced to relocate her people, she is in an extremely vulnerable state that manifests in her summoning Killmonger on the ancestral plane once she consumes the synthetic heart shaped herb. Her slain cousin, the antagonist of the previous film wonders if she will be noble like T'Challa or if she will do what is necessary to protect Wakanda like himself. Upon awakening, she allows her rage to consume her and directs her people into war with Namor and the Talokanils. Having the opportunity to take her revenge after a brutal battle, she chooses peace instead and rejects her ego in favor of leadership. And not even knowing it, she sets the stage for a new generation of Wakandan leadership to step up. Leadership Lesson: Leaders must assess their why for seeking positions of authority and power. Is it to gain self-esteem or is it to serve and support others? Ego-driven leaders often leave a trail of toxicity in their wake. Ego-less leaders build enduring organizations that outlive them.

Overall, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever has redeemed Marvel's phase 4 and with its deep themes of tribalism, imperialism, and its unique and thoughtful approach to grieving one of our generations most promising actors and leaders was extremely resonant and well done (5 out of 5 stars).

What other leadership lessons did you glean from the film? Let us know in the comments below. And please give the article a comment and share with your network if you enjoyed and got anything out of it.

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