Have you ever gotten completely lost in one of Disney’s magical tales? Has a Disney movie like Aladdin, a musical like Frozen, or a particular theme park ride like Soarin made you forget the course of the world for a few hours?
Disney’s magic unfolds at the fingertips of their “imagineers” – the engineers of imagination, whose dedication lies in making dreams come true. These artists craft unparalleled immersions that push kids and adults to the far edges of their fantasy, creating powerful and life-long memories.
After entering Disney’s kingdom of living teapots, sweet cotton candy castles and time travel to the oriental markets of fairytale lands, a person never leaves the same.
The Lion King – Circle of Life is no exception. This presentation video for the legendary movie The Lion King reminds us of our truly human experiences through tales from the animal kingdom.
Most notably, the creators have weaved in profound propositions for a healthy coexistence in our working lives. Ideas, it seems, that many of our competitive workplaces have forgotten.
Many leaders today need to adapt their organizations’ culture so their enterprise can meet the requirements of a new economic paradigm.
The three central values of community, diversity and trust presented in this art piece are not just a ‘nice-to-have’ idea in a global world. Instead, I believe that they are indispensable leadership qualities and drivers of robust organizations and ecosystems.
Join me as we dive back into the African savannah of our childhood dreams and journey towards three of the most profound, yet highly unconventional lessons in leadership.
The Circle of Life, the leader Mufasa has created a harmonious community based on coexistence.
The animals appear happy and at peace. They’ve banded together to ensure that everybody thrives. The members support and empower each other rather than engaging in competition. They display joy by celebrating successes such as the arrival of the new prince.
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This is far from a romanticized, unrealistic picture.
On the contrary, scientific research shows that if we don’t feel belonging, we experience a constant stream of cortisol. This, in turn, inhibits oxytocin, which makes us less empathetic — hence our communication skills suffer.
Many of us have experienced these effects in our cut-throat work culture.
In fact, as part of my work I frequently speak with employees at companies of all sizes. I’ve witnessed that it is not uncommon to be shouted at or encouraged to hustle “for the team” up to a point where a person’s health is seriously threatened.
Within these workplaces employees have reported getting laughed at for an innovative idea, only to find it implemented a few weeks later, with the credit going to someone else.
When did we lose our camaraderie?
Alan Watts suggests the concept of one-upmanship, where each human encounter is treated as a race to the top. People end up in an arms race for the best standing desk, yoga practice, or career, instead of building a community on commonalities that helps everyone thrive within their personal potential.
Upgrading our business paradigm
Conversely, Nordic economies find themselves at the top of most economic rankings because of their embodiment of community characteristics that defend against this one-upmanship culture.
Our classic view of the animal kingdom is fixed on the survival of the fittest (Charles Darwin). This justifies the design we have chosen for our own coexistence.
Darwin’s infamous evolutionary theory stresses the importance of competition for the evolution of species. The paradigm: beat the others so you can thrive. We have come to see it as the holy cow of explanations for why we are who we are.
The truth is, however, most animals engage in exponentially more collaboration and synergy than in competition. Darwin’s fellow evolutionary scientist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1744-1829) underlined the relevance of cooperation in ecosystems.
In fact, nature’s complex dependencies would not work without extensive cooperation, as shown in “One Planet” (Ep. 1, Our Planet). There’s also such a thing as inter-species emergency support, as displayed in the video Battle of Kruger.
Even the wild baboon, one of the most violent animals, is not genetically programmed to be selfish.
— Dr. Lipton, Author of The Biology of Belief
Competition, while a driver for human action, remains rooted in a scarcity mindset of “there is no room for both the other and me.” It jeopardizes true creativity.
Knowing this to be true, the question begs: how can we reshape our western business culture to encourage the advantages gained from a grander sense of community in the workplace? In my view, communication wins over competition every time.
In this parable, Disney also effectively communicates how a strong sense of unity contributes to a stronger organization.
I believe that the most valuable asset in the economy is creativity. Yet, this resource is fickle.
If a person feels judged they find it harder to express their creativity openly.
The Circle of Life artfully shows the strength of an inclusive community where various races coexist and complement each other. They do not envy or fight each other for their inherent differences.
In one example the leader Mufasa even openly displays compassion when he hugs Rafiki, removing the artificial distance and leading with vulnerability and generosity.
Furthermore, he acts completely at eye level with Sarabi, his partner, and mother of the lion prince, Simba. He does not feel the necessity to hide his emotions of friendship or romance, and in doing so leads us bravely into a new paradigm.
His display of affection and friendship removes any preconceived distancing of himself from others and improves cooperation within the community.
In line with that, researchers have proven that human diversity and the integration of differences is an asset, not a disadvantage. The more tolerant a community is of these differences the better any individual in the community becomes at expressing their creativity. Thus, helping the community as a whole thrive.
However, knowing the facts and living them are two completely different things, as many of us remember from our own work environments.
In Circle of Life, the leader Mufasa holds a gathering where he chooses not to position himself in the spotlight. Instead, he waits patiently for the religious leader Rafiki to arrive and perform his ritual.
Mufasa does not cling to all the power.
Instead he practices humility and trust, relying on other experts with one of his most delicate tasks: the inauguration of the prince, his own son.
He has installed a culture where the members of the community are sensitive to more than just rational decision making.
In many workplaces today we can observe deeply ingrained habits of traditional business culture which are quite the opposite. In their patronizing environments any camaraderie between leader and follower appears unacceptable.
So, when a leader is required to demand results and apply corrective measures how can one determine what a healthy dose of camaraderie really looks like?
The answer to this question begins with a leadership concept which I call Kind Confidence.
Kind Confidence is a leader’s winning blend of character traits. Because culture builds from the top, culture-shaping leadership fuels the core of a cooperative workplace.
To understand its building blocks, let’s imagine an alchemist who blends three aspects:
- A strong self-identity: there is no need to impress or imitate others, or to compensate for any lack. Instead, a value-based identity drives the person to act in integrity.
- World experience: intuition builds on life experience. Rather than living by or reiterating a perfect “book-smart” map of an imperfect world, a “street-smart” individual will lead others authentically, driven by their own conclusions.
- Serenity: a general trust in the world and a healthy self-confidence helps a person to act calmly, analytically, and generously.
Leaders who practice Kind Confidence trust their senses (instincts) and are in touch with their intuition – their natural strength. While research has long found the benefits of intuition a complement to rational choices, our modern working world still gives little attention to this soft skill.
British-American organizational consultant and motivational speaker, Simon Sinek, has shared what Mufasa displays in a recent presentation:
Leadership is not a rank, it’s a choice to sacrifice something so others feel safe.
— Simon Sinek
Many leaders face the responsibility of reshaping their business culture so their organization can meet the requirements of a global, digital, and volatile world. In this article we explored the three timeless leadership qualities of community, diversity and trust. Qualities which The Lion King has helped us contextualize so they can translate directly into drivers of robust organizations.
What character traits shown by Mufasa can you identify in yourself? Which ones are you able to improve? Share your stories with us in the comments below!