Journey to Wakanda: Lessons I learned from “Black Panther”

Dora Clayton-Jones |

Above all else, pursue integrity.

Journey to Wakanda: Lessons I learned from “Black Panther”For the author, Marvel Studio’s blockbuster “Black Panther” was more than wonderful entertainment; the transformative film continues to prompt thoughtful reflection.

If you have ever watched a movie and identified lessons it teaches or had discussions about scenes in a film you found truly transformative, you can relate to my response to the recently released “Black Panther” movie. Based on the Marvel Comics character of the same name, this box office blockbuster has left an indelible mark on my mind. I can’t summarize in one article all I garnered from the first time I viewed it, but here are a few leadership lessons I learned on my journey to Wakanda. 

Leave or stay?
When Erik “Killmonger” Stevens wrests possession of the Wakanda throne from T’Challa, his first cousin and rightful king of the technologically advanced but reclusive African nation, T’Challa’s family fears what may happen to its beloved country under Killmonger’s evil rule and seeks help from a neighboring tribe. A female warrior invited to join them on their quest refuses, citing her loyalty to the Wakandan throne “no matter who sits upon it.” She challenges Nakia, T’Challa’s lover, to also serve her country, to which Nakia replies, “No, I save my country.” 

Application: Have you ever considered leaving an organization because of questionable leadership at the top? I am the last one to say how you should respond to such a situation, but a few observations come to mind. As leaders within an organization, we should reflect on our influence and whether we should remain in our positions to maintain the organization’s mission and contribute to its growth. On the other hand, we must be brave enough to consider stepping outside our comfort zone and investing in the mission of another organization. We must be self-aware and consciously discern our season—whether to remain planted or to launch—trusting that whatever we decide will influence change in either circumstance. 

Align methods with goals
Killmonger’s drive to be king is fueled, in part, by his desire to share Wakanda’s assets with burdened and marginalized people in other countries who lack resources. He is also driven by desire for revenge against his Uncle T’Chaka—former king of Wakanda and T’Challa’s father—who killed Killmonger’s father, abandoned Killmonger as a young boy in America, and never told family members what he had done. Although Killmonger’s methods are evil and motivated by desire for revenge, his aspiration to help others is noble. 

Application: Are there times when we observe leaders who have a heart and compassion to help others, but their approach is morally deficient? We need to constantly reflect on our methods. Do we intentionally overlook someone who has potential for advancement, show favoritism toward others, or purposely attack another person’s character for our own selfish motives? It is tempting to let personal agendas and biases guide our actions, but we must remain true and committed to the mission of the organizations we serve while exhibiting moral leadership. 

Let’s not eat our young!
Princess Shuri, T’Challa’s sister, is young, driven, and reflective—a forward-thinker with a platform to discover unique and creative ways to use Wakanda’s resources. Using her gifts and talents, she supports her country on many levels and in many areas, including communication, defense, and education. 

Application: Each of us should embrace those nurses among us who are young—whether in age or experience—as a way to encourage growth and development that benefits our profession. Recognizing potential in others and giving them a platform to use their gifts should be in the heart of every leader. We all experience success when students, mentees, and new graduates benefit from our wisdom and strengths. 

What’s your organization’s vibranium?
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” That’s not how Princess Shuri views things. She says, “Just because something works doesn’t mean it can’t be improved.” Although outsiders think Wakanda is undeveloped, it is, in fact, the most technologically advanced nation in the world, and Princess Shuri, head of Wakandan R&D, believes there is always room for improvement. That means finding ways to optimize use of vibranium, an extraterrestrial resource that fuels the country’s hidden economic and technological prowess. 

Application: In advance of crisis, great leaders seek to develop partnerships, promote growth, and create activities that foster resilience. Awareness of the “vibranium” among us—what we identify as our greatest asset or assets—is key. What resources do we possess or have access to, and how can we use those resources to promote growth? Vibranium may come in the form of knowledge, specific skill sets, and talents found among our team members. Or it may be the confidence or acumen needed to propel us to the next level. 

Bridges or barriers?
In the film’s mid-credits, King T’Challa, speaking before the United Nations General Assembly, observes: “In times of crisis the wise build bridges, while the foolish build barriers. We must find a way to look after one another as if we were one single tribe.” 

Application: It is not uncommon for leaders to encounter crisis. Both before and during crisis, we can positively influence the outcome. Identifying ways to work through crises as a team not only honors the perspectives of others but also provides opportunity to identify strengths of all participants. Whether the result is what we hope for or far less, creating an atmosphere that promotes unity over dissension will, in the end, resonate positively with all, regardless of outcome. 

Wrapping up
In viewing “Black Panther,” I learned so many lessons and have much to reflect upon, but I leave you with this thought: As leaders, we are imperfect, but pursuing integrity and seeking personal growth will sustain us and enable us to lead effectively during challenging and uncertain times. Integrity will carry us further than any title or position. It is a form of vibranium all can access. RNL

Dora Clayton-Jones, PhD, RN, CPNP-PC, is assistant professor at Marquette University College of Nursing in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA. An Arthur J. Schmitt Leadership Fellow and Diversity Scholar, Clayton-Jones is vice president of the International Association of Sickle Cell Nurses and Professional Associates.

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