Yesterday I watched Kung Fu Panda 3 and was enchanted by the story and how much it relates to my view of leadership. The first impactful quote for me was when Master Shifu encouraged Po to act outside his comfort zone. “If you only do what you can do you will never be better than what you are.” That, to me, is such an insightful saying. It is so true of all of us in striving to be more than what we are we often fail to remember that it takes courage to start something new.
How does all this relate to leadership? What are the lessons of leadership in this small and wonderful animated movie? In my opinion, the whole theme is in learning to be a better version of oneself and in gaining self-confidence. Leadership doesn’t just happen. It is a process. Leadership takes our own internal development as well as a partnership with those around us.
In the beginning of the movie, we see that Po is tasked with teaching his colleagues new moves. He has advanced to a new position of authority and he is struggling with this position. He fails to believe he has the necessary skill and know how to lead his fellow colleagues. He is suffering from a crisis of belief. This is common of many leaders. Many of us have within ourselves an “imposter syndrome” that questions our own ability to be in the leadership position we are in. This is especially true of many people who are gifted. A post from website www.highability.org describes this syndrome and quotes Dr. Valerie Young who has studied this phenomenon for years.
Finding the self-confidence to lead is a key struggle for many of today’s leaders, whether they are leading an organization or a movement, they still need to find the strength within themselves to be able to inspire those who work with them. Po had to go on his own journey of self-discovery to find the talents he brought to the table. His first step in self-discovery was to find his own people. We often forget how important it is to gather minds who are like ours to give us the strength to realize our own potential. In this saga, Po discovers his father and a hidden village of other Pandas. The key is hidden. The reflections of true selves are often hidden. Once we find them, we discover with delight (as Po learned to roll down a hill!) that some of our skills are the assets we ran away from.
“Don’t push past memories deeper inside of yourself. Let those memories breathe and let old wounds heal.”
Discovering those hidden truths about ourselves, even if seemingly difficult, do have the potential to help us become more of who we should be. Finding our voice with other’s who understand and respect our voice helps us in that reflection. Going back to our roots is an exercise in finding our true values and beliefs. It helps us discover what is important to us. It also helps us respect the differences in others. When we start to have true self-confidence, we start to look at people not as how they should be like us, but how we should develop them according to their own strengths. As Po so aptly said, “I don’t need to make them more like me, I need to make them more like them!”
I found this slide on a LinkedIn site by Sompong Yusoontorn. I think he quoted the right thing. Believing in oneself takes understanding our core values and beliefs and deciding that those beliefs are worthwhile. We can’t convince others to follow us until we are ready to follow ourselves.
And ultimately, the leadership lesson of the day is not only learning to believe in oneself, but also to find the joy in living. Po never hesitated throughout the movie to appreciate the awesomeness in even his enemies. “Wow, he can do that. That’s awesome.” was said of any talent, even his worst enemy during the battle. That is also a talent. We can’t improve ourselves until we also admire the strengths of not only ourselves and our friends, but also our opposition. Our journey to be better leaders, especially in a world where talent is all around us, takes recognizing the unique strengths of others. In Kung Fu Panda 3 Po also learned that to create an effective fighting force meant seeing that each of those he was working with had unique skills and talents. Even if your talent is bumping stomachs with another, that is the skill to use. That is what made his team more competitive than all the others.
This is where Po leads us — to a place where we know we need to create our own story. Where his leadership is in helping us find what our story is. Where we know that everyone has their own unique, individual story and each story has the potential to become a greater version of itself!
In closing, I leave you with a few more excerpts and quotes. Hope you go and see the movie!