King T’Challa – Black Panther – succeeds to the throne after his father is assassinated (in Captain America: Civil War). In the totally unexpected blink of an eye, he is suddenly the leader of the secretive nation of Wakanda.
And you know what? There’s nothing much wrong with Wakanda. It’s infinitely wealthy, not just by African standards but by any standard anywhere. Fabulously wealthy, in fact, thanks to its advanced tech capabilities. It has a strong sense of social balance and community, where the majority are valued for their contribution, however large or small. It has an efficient and effective infrastructure, clean air and a largely happy populace.
But where there are divisions – created by disenfranchisement in influence or the disinheritance of power – they run bone-deep and, as such, represent to the young king an undeniable, if unquantifiable, threat to the nation’s future instability.
In corporate terms, then, T’Challa is the young CEO who must succeed the mentor he adores, knowing he must fix something that, on the surface at least, is far from broken. And in pursuing a path that many will feel is dangerous and unnecessary he must become a leader who:
- has to learn to balance tradition with finding his own way in a changing world.
- has a strong team around him, willing to follow him and his vision, but also challenge him, too.
- has to face-up to and acknowledge the mistakes of the past and his predecessor’s part in them.
All of these are tricky to get right. All over the world leaders face these same scenarios and don’t do so well.
T’Challa – the changemaker
In the comics Wakanda is an African nation, isolated by design. Wakandans have kept their wealth and technology hidden and have protected themselves through history, whilst the rest of Africa was ransacked.
But the world now is different, there are signals of impending chaos, hinted at in Captain America: Civil War (2016). King T’Challa has to take his country into the future, not in terms of technology – his nation is already tough to beat on that score – but in mindset.
Wakanda is like a successful, yet conservative company that has to step into the future to remain relevant, but also to fulfil its greater potential. An example of this in the real world would be Old Spice, synonymous with men in their 50s and older, successfully rebranded in 2010, gaining increased sales and a younger demographic by engaging with its audience in a way not done before. T’Challa is on the same road.
If we continue to think of Wakanda as a company rather than a country – to change the organisation without compromising the principles on which it was formed, this is what T’Challa sets out to do. He respects the traditions of Wakanda and his heritage but knows that opening up the country to more people will be good for everyone – his citizens and the global community. He has to convince his confidantes and aides – his management team, if you like – of this, but it’s risky and completely different to what has gone before.
T’Challa – the team leader
It’s the strong team around him that enables his success and supports him through his stumbles. And, unlike the two characters we’ve already written about, this is a real team right from the start. Thanos’ people followed him blindly and out of fear. And Iron Man barely even wanted to be part of the Avengers when it was first put to him. T’Challa is unlike them, and his people love him for what he embodies: respect and loyalty.
Without a bond or sense of connection it’s hard to see any employee challenging the ideas of a leader, even more so when that leader is your King. But T’Challa’s advisors don’t shy away from speaking their truth. Even when it comes to mocking his footwear!
T’Challa – the humble
But the hardest challenge T’Challa faces is being confronted with his father’s mistakes. He has to come to terms with a horrifying truth, made all the more so because he thought his father infallible. Killmonger, an abandoned cousin, bringer of chaos, revenge and anger, comes to stake his claim to the throne, and everything T’Challa learns challenges what he always believed about the place of Wakanda in the world.
To say he has to have some difficult conversations is an understatement. But he does what so many leaders avoid – he displays true humility, acknowledges the mistakes made in the past and seeks to find a way to reconciliation. He doesn’t get what he wants, but he tries, even when that means accepting some harsh realities.
If we view Wakanda as a metaphor for nations and businesses through the ages, then we have seen T’Challas throughout history.
They are the visionaries and entrepreneurs who understand that often success is founded on failure – or at least the absence of fear of failure. They are the reformers and innovators who know that long-term stability comes from forward movement. And they are the collaborators and unifiers who are fundamentally aware of how the potential of others is the answer to the searching questions raised by their own limitations.
The T’Challas of the corporate world are the men and women who see what the future holds – for good and ill. The stargazers and fortune tellers with the courage of their own convictions and the presence to communicate them in compelling ways.
In the wrong environment they come to be viewed as boat-rockers and are burned like Salem witches. In the right place at the right time, surrounded by the right people with the right amount of faith, they are beacons of progress whose light shines on long after they’ve gone.