Watching Kung Fu Panda with my family on the weekend provided some powerful reminders of what great leaders do to bring out the best in themselves and those around them.

For those of you who haven’t seen the movie, the story revolves around a giant panda named Po, a kung fu fanatic who dreams of one day becoming a kung fu master. A twist of fate results in Po being deemed the Dragon Warrior, the kung fu master destined to receive the mystical secrets to limitless power contained on the Dragon Scroll and also be responsible for protecting their valley from the evil snow leopard, Tai Lung.

As Po begins training under Master Shifu, it becomes obvious that his skill level is nowhere near what it needs to be in order to defeat Tai Lung. However, Shifu discovers that Po is capable of amazing physical feats when motivated by food and helps him turn this into an effective kung fu style. With Tai Lung approaching, Po is given the Dragon Scroll, but the scroll reveals nothing but a blank, reflective surface. Believing the scroll to be useless, Shifu orders Po to leave and evacuate the valley while he stays behind to fight Tai Lung.

The distraught Po then finds his father who, in an attempt to console him, reveals that the long-withheld secret ingredient to his famous “Secret Ingredient Soup” is nothing, explaining that, “things become special if they are believed to be”. Po realizes that this concept is the entire point of the Dragon Scroll, and returns to confront and defeat Tai Lung.

So what are the leadership lessons that we can learn from this kids movie?

  • People have dreams but often lack the self-belief to take the action required to achieve them. We can’t all rely on a twist of fate to make our dreams come true. Leaders send the message “I believe in YOU” and help people move towards making their dreams a reality.
  • When you take the time to understand what motivates a person (their core values), you hold the keys to helping them unleash their true potential. This is how Shifu turned Po into POW.
  • By identifying and focusing on people’s strengths, you find the fastest route to their being successful. Find what they are great at and help them become exceptional in this area.
  • Self belief is the secret ingredient to all great achievements and great leaders. Being prepared to take risks, face your fears, learn from your failures and to persist in the face of adversity is a trait that you will see in all successful people.

How can you apply these leadership lessons for more success in your own life?

It’s simple really, you need to ask and answer the following four questions:

  • What would I set out to achieve if I knew I could not fail? (create a big vision)
  • What do I hold most important in my life? (find your values)
  • What am I really great at and what do I need to learn to move from great to exceptional? (leverage your strengths)
  • What am I prepared to commit to achieving? (set an audacious and scary goal)

The true role of any leader is to create the next generation of leaders and, this is the scary part, sometimes make themselves redundant in the process. However, at least to me, nothing beats the feeling of seeing someone you have helped or mentored take the big step up in their career and find their inner Dragon Warrior.


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