Five Amazing Leadership Qualities Kung fu Panda Teaches Us
Updated: Jul 22, 2018
There are a ton of books and training available on how to be an effective leader. It’s same time simplest and same time hardest task, hardest simply because most times leaders simply don’t get what it means to be a leader and simply manage than lead. Recently I was watching Kung Fu Panda – secrets of the masters video. It beautifully highlights the simplest qualities each leader must have, to lead their own lives and those who follow them. Each one of (five) Kung Fu Panda warriors had a missing quality and when they fixed it there was no turning back, that is what video is about. Here’s the gist of each of the amazing quality in this blog, Kung Fu Panda way!
In the corporate world, I have seen many leaders confuse between a manager and a leader. It’s as simple as leaders “lead” while managers simply “manage”. Managing is also one small, tini tiny part of the job for leaders but never confuse between the two. But who is the leader? Are the leaders only one who are managing teams in a typical corporate setup or the ones who are active politically? Absolutely not. It is anyone who “leads”! You, me, everyone around you, everybody is leading their lives and their dependents. Leadership is also not limited to just work, it spawns all areas of life. Father/mother leads his/her family, so for a baby, his/her father/mother is also a leader, whose footsteps he/she will follow eventually. Leaders inspire, they cultivate the culture, they set the direction for the followers – they show the way! So you are also a leader for your own life and those around you. And these five basic qualities Kung Fu Panda warriors mastered will help you be an effective leader as well when you master those.
This is striking gold, really, once you understand this. I personally have seen so many leaders who were supposed to lead a big team and they simply didn’t have the patience for anything. Very cliché but a still obvious example of this is “managers” asking for putting more people on the task at hand to get the job done, just somewhat little earlier. Now, that isn’t always the wrong thing to do but doing that always is definitely the wrong thing to do. Such leaders (most times) wouldn’t care about the quality, nor outcome. They just want everything “now”.
Such impatient leaders won’t listen and so they also tend to react than respond to any situation. A typical symptom of such leaders is that their teams just don’t respect them. They don’t have long-term plan, there is no vision. All one sees is reactions to incoming situations than solid plan and path forward. Teams they lead also will most times be confused on what needs to be done and culture full of doubts and anxiousness. Trust obviously is an alien word in such cultures as everyone is always on their toes.
So what is it like to be a patient? Does this mean not acting for long? No. More you need to act on your team means more you are less patient. Patience also means you listen more, respond than react. Give time to your team. How many times you come out of the situation (be it an office meeting to personal life situation) where you felt you were not “heard”? Wouldn't that feeling of annoyance have vanished only if other party was more listening? That is exactly patience translates to. Give time, listen more, take a deep breathe and keep doing the right thing at the right time and your patience will yield the fruits when it is time.
No matter how hard the situation is, you should always have the courage to speak up, the courage to do the right thing. You may have the skills, have talent, have everything to conquer the problem or situation in your life but if you miss the courage to conquer it then everything is waste. My mom always says one famous idiom in the native language, it would translate into English something like – people who speak can sell the soil while who don’t can’t even sell gold. True isn't it?
Effective leaders always muster the courage to do the right thing at the right time.
This sounds obvious but still important that a leader needs to have confidence in the self, confidence in his team and most importantly, confidence in the thinking and the plan laid out for the team. If leader himself/herself isn't confident on the plan then his/her team reflects that sooner than the later.
In your personal life also you may be thrown by the challenges of the life which you never planned, never opted for, but if you possess courage and confidence to conquer it then you will conquer it! Also, just as confidence is good, too much of anything is always bad and confidence isn't an exception to that. Overconfidence not only kills productivity but blurs the boundary between confidence and ego. Overconfident as well as under-confident, both leaders lead people into epic failures.
You, as a leader, may have good qualities, like patience, courage, and confidence but without discipline, no leader can sustain success and create winning teams. There is an old proverb in Chinese which basically means if you can sleep like a baby in the night then you really are successful. You may be earning good money, good successful life but same time if it has taken a toll on your health, you don’t know or can’t maintain work-life balance then you aren't that successful and effective leader.
Good leaders maintain discipline for themselves as well as the people they lead. They know they have to set an example and that example is them, which people following them would follow first. Discipline helps the effective leader in you put your energy in the right task at the right time. Discipline eventually will also create “abundance of time”, after all, time is relative is what Einstein too said.
This is a most neglected aspect of leadership. I will share a story, which I heard in one of the lectures from one very successful leader. When this person had a company successfully running, he had very great culture set up in the team. He was compassionate towards his team, cared for them and in turn team reciprocated. Eventually, this company, unfortunately, was not doing well and so they decided to take a hard decision and possibly close it down in 6 months. He gave a choice for everyone to leave early and not wait till all the way 6 months when they may possibly close the door. What do you think his people chose? If you ever being compassionate towards others and/or had a compassionate leader then you guessed it right – all people decided to stay and work more and harder to not get into a situation where they might need to close the door. They took their leaders problem as their problem and started working on it.
Compassion is to show you care, you understand. It is different than sympathy, though sympathy also is one part of compassion. Once you show compassion to people around you and you care, it reciprocates. People you influence and lead will take any problem you have as their problem, but as a leader, you must show compassion to people around you first. In a typical corporate setup, I have seen many managers who think of their team as working set of robots without even realizing they doing this. It shouldn't surprise to such managers if their team hates them and think of them as mechanical manager. For such leaders, when push comes to shove, no person from the team will side with them.
Compassion is also reflected in organization policies in a typical corporate setup. Harder one needs to make policies to get things done, lesser the compassion is from the leaders in such teams and organizations. It’s as simple as if you care for others then others care for you!
Parting note . .
Now I mentioned Kung Fu Panda in the title and at the start but didn't really refer to it. All of the main heroes (leaders) in Kung Fu Panda movie come from different background and back-story is each one them lacked one basic leadership quality. Once they worked on it there was no looking back and rest is history on how successful they become (after all, who would have thought that the big fat panda would end up as the dragon warrior!). Here’s that beautiful video on the parting note, do watch till the end.