Disney’s “The Lion King” exemplifies the many struggles and triumphs of leadership in several ways. It can be surprising to the untrained eye than an animated children’s movie could hold the valuable lessons by such a complex concept but it is true. Even Kouzes Posner’s framework for Leadership is exemplified throughout the movie. There are multiple characters that take on leadership roles at different times throughout the movie, but the primary leaders are Mufasa, the initial King we meet, his son, Simba, and Mufasa’s evil brother, Scar. Each exemplifies leadership in their own ways, showing both its trials, errors, and its gains.
Mufasa is the first leader we meet. He is the pride’s king, but he is most devoted to his son, Simba, and guiding him into being a strong leader. Mufasa was, unknowingly, very good at following Kouze Posner’s framework for leadership. He was especially good at modeling the way for Simba. Kouze Posner’s framework many can become overwhelmed by challenges. Mufasa sets standards during his time in the movie, meeting them himself, thereby setting an example for those around him. By doing this, he avoids panic in a time of crisis and builds a framework of leadership throughout his pride. This can be seen when Mufasa saves Simba and Nala from hyenas in the Elephant Graveyard (1994). While Simba and Nala panic, Mufasa scares the hyenas and saves the lion cubs. Afterward, Simba explains that he was only trying to prove he was as brave as Mufasa, but Mufasa quickly tells Simba that a real king is only brave when he has to be, setting a standard that he has met many times.
Mufasa faces the same dilemmas like any king: he must watch over his kingdom all while raising his son. I believe he set a good example for Simba, because later in the movie Simba rises to the standard his father set by becoming a leader and a king despite his own fear. This shows us that though Mufasa died he had a purpose. He was a strong leader; he set examples and those values were instilled very deeply in Simba. It was sad that he had to die but ultimately he did to save his son, which was the right thing to do. The only other action was to leave Simba to die in the stampede. That Mufasa sacrifices himself is just another test leadership. When Mufasa dies, and Simba finds his lifeless body, it is sad but knowing that Mufasa acted bravely to his son could live, proving how committed Mufasa was to being an excellent leader and seeing his son live and succeed. Mufasa teaches us that a strong leadership can lay a solid foundation in the hearts of decent individuals.
After Mufasa dies, Simba flees and Scar takes the thrown. He has orchestrated the death, and though evil, he is a leader too. He shows that Kouzes Posner’s framework is not always used with the best intentions. Scar does not model the way nobly like Mufasa, but instead uses fear and intimidation. After he becomes king, he forces the lionesses to hunt all the time until there is no food left. The pride is miserable, and Scar has become less of a leader and more of a dictator, though he still uses ideas from the framework. Following Mufasa’s death, he begins to inspire a shared vision among the pride. Though he planned the murder, he acts as its an accident, telling the pride Simba is also dead. He encourages the lions to join the hyenas. Previously, the lions and the hyenas had not gotten along but Scar assures them that this tragedy is a sign to work as a unit (2003). The lionesses give in to Scar’s leadership as he shares his innovative “vision” for the future. Kouze Posner’s framework says leaders that do this are charismatic and use charisma to enlist other individuals to help work toward their dream. Though he is evil, Scar is also charismatic, and the lionesses agree to go along with his plan (2003).
Kouze Posner’s framework says leaders change the status quo. Scar used this to his advantage. His brother, Mufasa, was king. Simba was second in line. Scar knew he would never be king, and the only option was to kill them both . As a diabolical leader, he challenged the entire process by murdering the two and taking the throne for himself. Though it is malicious, it does follow the framework in its own way. Scar took a risk and was rewarded. Scar, however, did not enable anybody else to act or encourage the heart, as the Kouze Posner framework suggests leaders should do. Instead, he was domineering. His style of leadership was more dictatorial, and his efforts were spent keeping minions in line. Rather than building relationships with anybody around him he fed off of them as resources until the movie began to show that the Pride Lands were barren with nothing left to offer. Scar also did not thank anybody for their help or show appreciation.
Scar teaches us many things. He does face a dilemma that is typical of a villainous leader: he wants power that is not his. In order to get it, he does whatever he has to. In this case, he murders his own brother, proving that sometimes just deeds are not rewarded. His actions were wrong and, unfortunately, Scar became king. Scar could have accepted his place as brother to the king and not murdered Mufasa, allowing the king to live a full life, sparing Simba the psychological torment of thinking he had killed father. These actions would have made Scar a better leader. He might have found other interests and led his own life. Instead, he leads the hyenas against the pride. It teaches us that leaders can be bad. It also teaches us that leadership can be used as a tool to harm others and that just because somebody has power, we should decide for ourselves whether to follow.
Simba has always been considered the true leader of “The Lion King” and he exemplifies many aspects of the leadership framework presented by Kouze Posner. However, Simba was not always a leader. He flees after Mufasa’s death. Simba does not believe in himself, hiding in the jungle in an attempt to make a new life. When Nala arrives, conflict begins. She tells Simba about Scar and the pride. Simba knows he must go but fears he cannot lead. The issue begins resolves when Mufasa appears to Simba, telling him to return to Pride Rock. Simba does so, hesitantly. Scar made Simba believe that he had killed his father. Fearing backlash he fled and was afraid of returning. Eventually, in adulthood, the needs of the pride superseded his own fear, and he returned. He became brave because he had to be, not only amplifying the example set by Mufasa, but setting it again for future generations and modeling the way himself.
Through Simba’s strong friendships, he enables others to act. His friends, Timon and Pumba, distract a pack of hyenas while he attacks Scar, for example. As a cub, he formed such a strong bond with Nala that the two fall in love once they see each other in adulthood and the entire pride loved him so dearly they helped him reclaim the throne. Simba also encourages others. He never hesitates to thank his friends and family and let them know they helped him achieve his goals.
Simba’s role as a leader teaches many things. Initially, he left Pride Rock, believing to be the reason his father was dead. As the rightful king, this created a dilemma and deep inner conflict, because Mufasa tried to teach Simba not to act out of fear. A king acts brave so, at this point, Simba’s actions are wrong. After he realizes the pride needs him, Simba returns, despite his fear. He realizes his father’s lesson, setting his actions right. The general reaction to his return is excitement. Simba could have continued to live in the jungle, allowing the lands that were rightfully his to die under the rule of his evil uncle. The values and lessons instilled in him by Mufasa would be lost. The lesson we learn is that though Scar managed to gain power, the truly brave will always set things right. Simba returned and with the help of his friends he was able to restore happiness to his kingdom and reclaim the throne. The universal or modern equivalent to these lessons can be applied to my life. I was taught many things in my country of origin but had to deal with foreign ideas when I moved here. However, the ideals instilled in me by my culture and by my people, remain with me today. This is much like how Mufasa taught Simba. Though Mufasa died and Simba was met with challenges, the lessons remained.
The analysis of leaders in this “The Lion King” shows that even the villain can be a leader for a short time. Manipulation can be a powerful tool. However, the analysis also revealed that decent people, or lions, who value their friends and spend their time setting good examples for others will not only be the best leaders, but they will create the best leaders. And typically, like in Simba’s case, those are the leaders that will rise to the occasion and ultimately win out.
Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2003). The Leadership Challenge. Hoboken: Wiley.
Minkoff, R., & Allers, R. (Directors). (1994). The Lion King [Motion Picture].