Leadership Lessons from The Lion King (2019)



Please note: this article contains spoilers for the 2 people in the world who have never seen the Lion King :).


Disney wants all the money. The journey for total box office dominance continued last week with the release of the digital reimagination of The Lion King - one of mine and many others favorite animated classics of the past thirty years. Leveraging the latest in super realistic visual effects to recreate the animated movie as if it occurs in the three-dimensional world, Director Jon Favreau and Disney are assured of a can't miss financial hit in this nearly shot-for-shot remake of the original.


The synopsis of the film goes: The Lion King follows the adventures of the young lion Simba, the heir of his father, Mufasa. Simba's wicked uncle, Scar plots to usurp Mufasa's throne by luring father and son into a stampede of wildebeests. But Simba escapes, and only Mufasa is killed. Simba returns as an adult to take back his homeland from Scar with the help of his friends Nala, Timon and Pumbaa.


This remade classic is amazing visually but devoid of the magic of its predecessor. The film is about finding and claiming one’s place in the world but it also has a strong message about finding the courage to overcome guilt, forgive yourself, and move on and up. As expressed by Melanie Kouloris:


"There is no sense in punishing your future for the mistakes of your past. Forgive yourself, grow from it, and then let it go."

With this thought in mind, allow me to present five leadership lessons gleaned from this nostalgia-inducing movie.


1. Even kings get scared: When Simba and Nala run off to explore the badlands where the hyenas live (due to Scar's influence), Mufasa is able to fight them off and save the cubs. He later confesses to his son, that the thing that frightens him the most is losing Simba. Because of this he takes so many precautions to guard that which matters most to him. Leadership Lesson: Fear is an important motivator for a leader. Identifying what keeps you up at night and then preparing accordingly is always a good use of your time. Not enough leaders prepare their organizations for inevitable crises. The best leaders however, are masters of anticipation and embed this "productive paranoia" into the DNA of their organizations.

2. Lead for the right reasons: Check out these lyrics to the classic song, I just can't wait to be King:

I'm gonna be a mighty king So enemies beware I'm gonna be the main event Like no king was before I'm brushing up on looking down I'm working on my roar

Free to run around all day Free to do it all my way

Simba aspires to lead for all the wrong reasons. And Zazu understands this and tries to educate the cub on what leadership is really all about. Leadership Lesson: Being a leader comes with a significant responsibility to others. It's not about serving the ego - its about serving the people. If you aspire to leadership for purely selfish reasons, then you are likely to become a terrible leader.

3. Admit fault: After Mufasa is killed in the Wildabeest stampede in the gorge, Scar is able to easily manipulate Simba into self-exile. Simba escapes the hyenas and eventually is rescued by Pumbaa and Timon, but is crushed inside by the guilt he feels for his part in his father's ugly demise. Leadership Lesson: It takes an evolved leader to readily admit when you are wrong. But this type of honesty and vulnerability is exactly what is necessary to engender followership. Being fallable and human are the greatest leadership traits. Once a leader is comfortable expressing fault it creates a virtuous circle within the organization..

4. Hakuna Matata: Timon and Pumbaa introduce Simba to a new philosphy on life which runs counter to Mufasa's circle of life lesson. They believe that worry is useless and so is responsibility. This idea is seductive to Simba who needs to release his self hatred and guilt. By removing worry from the equation, he begins to heal. Leadership Lesson: Proactive leaders understand the three circles of concern, influence, and control and are able to use them to focus themselves and their teams on what matters most. In this sense Hakuna Matata means don't spend time worrying about things you cannot control. Focus your time and energy where you can make the biggest impact.

5. Procrastination is a killer: Simba spends the bulk of the film trying to distance himself from the pain of his father's death while his kingdom is nearly destroyed by Scar's toxic leadership. It takes a strong reminder from Nala to bring him back to the pride and reclaim the seat his father left for him. Leadership Lesson: The watchout of the Hakuna Matata mindset is not to ignore issues that require your intervention. Leaders have to confront the brutal facts of their situations and then build solutions that act on root causes so they can improve their circumstances. Procrastination and endless deliberation do not get the job done. Leaders must inspire right action.


I felt a strange emptiness while watching The Lion King, as if my childhood were being gutted. I connected much more strongly with the animated original although the technical effects are worth seeing. For this reason I give it 1 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 thumbs up and share with your network if you enjoyed and got anything out of it.


Omar L. Harris is Associate Vice-President and Country Manager for Allergan PLC in Brazil. He is the author of Leader Board: The DNA of High-Performance Teams available for purchase in ebook or print on Amazon.com. Please follow him on instagramtwitter, and/or LinkedIn for more information and engagement.

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