Last week, Disney returned to the story of The Jungle Book to the delight of yet another generation. The new release is a visual marvel that will thrill audiences of all ages.
This coming of age classic is based on the collection of stories published by Rudyard Kipling from 1893-1894. The stories center around a human child, Mowgli, who is adopted and raised by wolves in an Indian jungle. Unlike the Disney versions, Kipling’s stories offer rich prose from which Mowgli learns the ways of the world and his place in it. And they are layered with leadership wisdom.
Kipling devoted much of Mowgli’s conflict on defending his “wolfness” and his rightful place in the animal kingdom. When challenged by his tutor, the black panther Bagheera, Mowgli insists,
I was born in the jungle. I have obeyed the Law of the Jungle, and there is no wolf of ours from whose paws I have not pulled a thorn. Surely they are my brothers!
When he is first exposed to humans, Mowgli begins to question his identity. He struggles to accept that he is human because he is appalled by the greed and destructiveness of men. Mowgli can identify with the savagery he witnesses among some members of the animal world, because each animal remains true to its nature. But the self-indulgence of humans is beyond his understanding. Through a series of adventures in which he must defeat his sworn enemy, the tiger Shere Khan, and overcome many obstacles, Mowgli eventually comes to accept his humanness.
What does it mean to be human? Like Mowgli, we must accept that humans have both positive and negative qualities. We try our best to deny or cover up our flaws. Yet, one of the most beautiful gifts we can receive is the love of others who cherish us in spite of our imperfections.
These are powerful lessons every leader must come to accept.
First, we are humans and every person we will ever have the privilege of leading is a human with both positive and negative qualities.
Second, we must accept the entire package, and create a culture in which every member of our pack can be — not perfect — but whole.
Question: As a leader, do you create a culture that accepts the humanity of others?