Last week, we uncovered some of the leadership lessons from the movie The Emperor’s New Groove, specifically some positive and negative actions. At some point, in changing into a llama, the emperor’s character


Anyone Can Be a Leader

The villager in the movie, Pacha, comes to the emperor’s palace simply to plead his case against the emperor building a summer house on Pacha’s hillside, which would destroy his home and for his family to relocate. He has no mission or agenda. But as the movie unfolds, and his relationship with the emperor (in llama form) grows, he finds himself in a position to affect change. By seeing the good in the emperor, he is taking on a leadership role, using a coaching style to work with emperor and his appalling set of personality flaws.

Way back in the early part of the 20th century, there was a theory that people were born with the traits that make a leader. This was altogether better than previous theories that stipulated, first, you had to be a man, and second, you had to be a great man. Fast forward 170-ish years and we find ourselves with more comprehensive, behavioral theories on leadership. These rely on relationships more than almost everything else. Pacha uses just such a relationship to win the heart of the emperor. He has a why, which means he has a reason to lead—after all, those who lead inspire others to follow.

It is in the reason why that anyone can lead others.

Big Goals Require Help

I’ve never done it myself, but I imagine getting back home after being transformed into an entirely different species is difficult. What’s more, if the person who turned you into said species is also actively trying to kill you, the difficulty is exacerbated. When facing a difficult problem, Kuzco’s initial response is to do it himself, which gets him lost in the middle of the woods and nearly eaten by a pack of panthers.

If you find yourself facing a hungry group of jungle cats, remember, big goals are just a combination of small steps you have to take. There isn’t a single successful company today that wasn’t built by more than one person. An idea can come from a single person, but it cannot grow without others. Each small step that must be taken to achieve a bigger goal does not have to be taken by one person alone. In fact, sometimes those steps need to be taken at the same time to have a bigger effect. Can you imagine one sailor trying to take care of an entire battleship, or one soccer player trying to take on the opposing team by themselves? Good luck with that. Kuzco, like all of us, cannot achieve on the grand scale without finding other people to help out.

It is romantic to think that we can do anything and be anything as long as we set our minds to it. But it is an incomplete thought. We can certainly achieve anything, however at some point, we will need assistance. As a leader, it is your job, your mandate, to find the people that will help you achieve your goal. Without them, you will only make it so far.

Be Last in Line

After all is said and done, Kuzco finds the magical potion that turns him back into a human to continue his role as emperor. A new, more respectable emperor. But to arrive at such a new outlook, one must adopt a new mindset of putting others first. The happiness of the villagers is now a priority of his, and as such, Kuzco cannot subjectively tear down their homes to build Kuzcotopia.

As a leader, it’s important to see where you are in the food chain. It’s not like the animal kingdom, where the leader of the pack gets to do everything first, leaving little to none for the rest. A leader can and should certainly assume a physical position out front, but takes the foundational position of being last. Here, the leader can ensure that everyone in their care is provided for while simultaneously supporting them when they face obstacles.

It’s imperative to note a subtle point to this mindset: not everyone who follows a leader is in despair, so a leader should not jump on every grenade they see. It is important to not just lead people through, but to allow them to find their own way at times to learn. The difference lies in the leader’s ability to coach and delegate, rather than control and demand. Being last in line means you allow others to make the most of what they can out of what’s available before the leader does.

A former mentor of mine put it this way,

“If you have 10,000 employees, you have to put their needs first. If they each have a problem, your own problem is number 10,001.”

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