Animation films represent worlds far away from reality but can sometimes provide insights into our real world with striking clarity. The sleeper hit Kung Fu Panda from 2008 to me un-locked all the secrets of successful corporate leaders.

In the movie, Po a large, lazy Panda bear is inadvertently selected to be the dragon warrior compared to five other super-trained warriors.  Po of course goes on to successfully defend the valley and its citizens from the threat which the other super-trained warriors cannot.

As you watched this highly entertaining movie that went on to become a successful franchise with two sequels, you cant help noticing a lot of profound messages – which are true to corporate life – a lot of them reflecting ‘good to great’.

The Book Good to Great was a best seller considered one of the best management books. The book compared top performers that beat the stock market index and took learnings across different aspects of their performance.

The one that stood out for me was the levels of leadership where the top – level 5 was the one which the outperforms had the benefit of.

I am not sure the stock market or even the corporate world saw the irony in this.  Because these outperformers – the level 5 leaders were exactly the very opposite of how CEOs and leaders have been chosen.  (read Jim Collins view on this)

More often than not the CEO or leader candidates are all supremely confident high-fliers, usually aggressive personalities, media-friendly high-profile, with a long list of accomplishments that they naturally took credit for while the level-5 leaders identified by Jim Collins and team were the exact opposite – humility and low-profile.

The book while acknowledged for its cutting-edge learnings sadly did not make an impact in this arena.  A lot more times great candidates simply do not inspire confidence because of their humility or lack of personality.  (In fact in India a lot of CEO positions of large companies have not been filled because the bureaucracy is waiting for the right candidate.)

This phenomenon gives a double whopper – because even when a ‘great’ candidate gets chosen by a company and promoted. S/He faces the same opposition in mindset. there is resistance/ opposition at every step of the way.

This is where the Kung Fu Panda comes in.  Not only is the candidate the least qualified but there is a lot of doubt about him as happens in real life.

But the lesson is to keep faith and give him time as well as train him to help him become the leader he is destined to be and he does.

There were a lot more specific lessons in the movie but chossing the right leader and keeping faith in the leader stood out for me.

And this sadly turned out to be another truism where the animation films strayed far far away depicting something that rarely happens in real life.