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Lessons in leadership from The Lion King, by Charles Assisi

25 years since the Disney movie, and with a remake out in July, a look at Mufasa, Simba and Scar’s very different management styles.

ht weekend Updated: Jun 15, 2019 17:51 IST
Charles Assisi
Charles Assisi
Hindustan Times
Lion King,Leadership Lessons,Charles Assisi
Mufasa knows he is a king. He talks like one, walks like one. He feels no need to exaggerate or diminish his authority. Meanwhile, his brother Scar is fixated on perceived past injustices, and this has made him bitter, petty and short-sighted.

On the face of it, The Lion King is a warm and fuzzy animated film about Simba, a lion cub born to the beloved Mufasa, king of the jungle. Simba grows up being told that he will one day inherit the kingdom; his father tries to teach him to rule it wisely.

But waiting in the wings is Simba’s bitter uncle Scar. He assassinates Mufasa, implicates Simba and convinces the guilt-ridden cub to flee. Scar takes control and the jungle goes to weed. Until Nala, Simba’s childhood friend, sets out in search of him and convinces him to return and take his rightful place.

The film is funny, tender, evocative and happy-ending. But read between the lines, and a masterclass on leadership emerges.

Lesson #1: Keep your eyes on the road ahead of you

Mufasa knows he is a king. He talks like one, walks like one. He feels no need to exaggerate or diminish his authority. He embraces both his power and the responsibilities that come with it.

Scar believes he was unjustly denied the crown, is fixated on the past, always conspiring. Over the years, he has become bitter, petty. His thirst for power makes him illogical and short-sighted. He’ll torture a rat to try and prove who’s boss; shake paws with the hyenas even though he knows they’ll strip him to the bone given half a chance.

And through it all, he remains so trapped in the past that he cannot build a narrative for himself. Everything he is becomes rooted in what could have been.

Lesson #2: Own your strengths

Unlike his regal father, Simba wants to be seen as humble. All he can hear are the voices of those who whisper that he will be king solely because of his lineage. He looks outward for approval and validation, and this turns him into something he’s not — hesitant, easily manipulated. Only when he is alone, staring at his reflection, does Simba realise he is fooling himself. It takes him a long time to stop rejecting his past.

Lesson #3: You are the sum of the people around you

In running from his past, Simba surrounds himself with idiots Timon and Pumbaa. Their motto is ‘Hakuna matata’, Swahili for ‘No worries’, and they convince Simba that life is to be lived only in the now — all else be damned.

It doesn’t take too long for him to morph into a very un-king-like creature. The lion starts to sound like a pipsqueak and all of his time is spent on childish activities, a function of the voices in his echo chamber.

Lesson #4: Always watch your back

Prodded by Nala, Simba finally battles Scar for control. He smells victory and, in a magnanimous display, gives in to Scar’s plea for mercy. The conspirator in Scar then attempts to kill Simba; history is about to repeat itself. This time around, though, Simba hits back in time and eliminates his uncle. He’s learnt that it doesn’t pay to trust a traitor. And that if you’re taking the high road, you must be sure to watch your back.

(The writer is co-founder at Founding Fuel & co-author of The Aadhaar Effect)

First Published: Jun 15, 2019 17:51 IST