Management lessons from Kung Fu Panda

IR #069

I love the Kung Fu Panda movies. Now with the third installment set to hit the screens in Dubai next week (it has already been released in the USA), I decided to have a Kung Fu Panda marathon the other day just to stay updated with the storyline.

Watching the first part made me realize that the movie is much more than a feel good movie of a cute panda finally living his dream of being a Kung Fu warrior. It is actually a very nice text book on management and leadership. Things that all managers and leaders should try and incorporate into their daily work place.

  • Everyone has an important role – Everyone on the team is not built the same nor do they have comparable skills. From the tiny Mantis to the limbless Viper, all the team members have their own set of skills in which they are masters. Just because Crane can fly or that Monkey has a prehensile tail does not make them in any way superior. It is up to the manager to learn how to use those skills to the benefit of the team. Shifu and Oogway have done a great job.
  • The leader does not show preference – Despite Tigress being portrayed as having a slightly better overall skill level, she was not chosen as the Dragon Warrior. More than the fact that Oogway “felt” that Po was the true Dragon Warrior, it was also a question of keeping the team balance the same.
  • Talent can be spotted from the most uncanny sources – No one but Oogway felt that a bumbling overweight panda could one day be the greatest Kung Fu warrior. He spotted Po and realized that the determination Po showed just to watch the tournament could be channelized to other purposes. This is what every manager should aspire to do.
  • It is never too late for a career change – All the five masters were trained in Kung Fu from an early age and were on course to becoming a Kung Fu warrior from their formative years. On the other hand, Po used to run a noodle shop with his dad. A career shift from an hotelier to a Kung Fu warrior was never planned. Po did not shy away from it saying he is too old to start training but took the plunge and did a complete career turnaround.
  • The leader has to find the right motivation for employees – All employees are different and need to be motivated in different ways. You cannot have a cookie cutter approach to dealing with your subordinates. This is clearly demonstrated when Shifu used food (dumplings) to motivate Po to train and teach.
  • Attitude is primary, talent comes next – Sometimes even your most skilled team member will need to be thrown out because their attitude is toxic to the work environment. This is clearly demonstrated when Tai Lung (The snow leopard) was cast out and not made the Dragon Warrior despite being the best Kung Fu exponent in the valley.

Sorry to try and infuse such serious elements into one of Hollywoods most loved franchises. I am not sure if these points were the actual intentions of the writers, but still… All managers should learn from it.



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