Remember that movie The Emperor’s New Groove? It was based on the Hans Christian Andersen tale about a couple of conmen who sell an emperor clothes that can only be seen by those who aren’t incompetent. The truth is there are no clothes but the emperor is much too proud to call BS. The movie adaptation focuses on a similar emperor who is so full of his own right to hold such a title that he ends up being turned into a llama by his mystical adviser. Also, spoiler alert.
Considering this is a kid’s movie, the underlying lessons are aimed at teaching children about humility, teamwork, and admitting fault. But this modern adaptation has some solid leadership lessons that we can use.
I’ve divided the lessons into actions and mindsets. In Part 1, we’ll cover actions, and in Part 2, the mindsets.
Delegate, don’t demand.
The main character, Kuzco the Emperor, starts us off showing his true colors, with an opening number filled with extravagance and self-indulgence. Kuzco makes a show of exercising his power to move anyone and anything out of his way by ordering them to do so. It’s true that the person at the top often has much bigger responsibilities than those at the bottom, but the commensurate compensation does not increase exponentially. By compensation, I don’t necessarily mean just money. There is a time and place for being a bit stricter when giving directions, but it’s mostly in emergency situations and it never includes rudeness.
He turns his modus operandi around progressively through the movie, as he starts to work as a team. He knows what he is and is not capable of and eventually sees the value in working with Pacha, a humble peasant who helps him get back to his palace. As a leader, you must know their own strengths and weaknesses—play to your strengths, delegate your weaknesses. Some people strive to improve their weaknesses, but I think that’s not always a good move. Unless you’re planning on making one into a strength for a specific function of your job (e.g. You want to add financial analysis to your portfolio in order to take on an executive level position), you’ll only be stretching your resources thinner. Focus on your strengths. Delegating is entrusting a role or task to someone else—you are putting confidence in someone else to play to their strengths.
Listen, don’t project.
There’s a point in the movie where Pacha tells Kuzco that his trusted advisor is the one who is trying to kill him. Kuzco isn’t having any of this idea and accuses Pacha of not caring about anyone but himself. In doing so, Kuzco is projecting what he personally feels (a lack of caring about anyone but himself). Additionally, his pride won’t allow him to accept someone would want to hurt him. When in a position of leadership, our own impulses can work against us if we don’t recognize them.
Unfortunately, it takes quite nearly being killed (again) by his adviser for Kuzco to accept that he’s not everyone’s favorite flavor of ice cream. From that point on, he becomes much more open to exercising a different muscle: listening. We won’t get deep into active listening, but to move from projecting to listening, you’ll need self-regulation. This is part of your emotional intelligence, wherein you better manage your emotions. Read that clearly. You aren’t controlling your emotions—that’s impossible—but rather managing the ones you have. By reacting to them differently, you are in a better position to listen, instead of being swept away by the river of your inner child.
Admit, don’t escalate.
By escalate, I’m specifically referring to escalation of commitment when it comes to your personal image, not so much projects. This is where a lot of leader’s take a nose-dive off a cliff, knowing their parachute has a hole in it, simply because they said they would jump. Kuzco spends much of the movie showing off how independent he is. After waking up at Pacha’s home, and despite knowing nothing about how to get back to his palace, he refuses to admit ignorance. Once he has said he’s going, that’s it. Instead of admitting to and accepting reality, sometimes a leader chooses to maintain some sort of crumbling image.
If you want to be an effective leader, never, ever, ever, ever be afraid of admitting something. You are not going to connect to anyone if you don’t own up to mistakes or admit you don’t know something. People want to follow a leader they can mimic. Know someone who never admits to their mistakes or ever says they’re wrong? We all do. And I daresay anyone wants to be like that person. Admitting your weaknesses makes you approachable and trustworthy. And leaders who are perfect at everything don’t need anyone else. Good luck with that attitude.
Check out Leadership Lessons from the Emperor, Part 2 with mindsets.
And of course, enjoy my favorite scene from the movie: “Bring it on”: