5 Leadership Lessons from the movie ‘Avatar’

My sons and husband are raving fans of the movie Avatar.

And so, when I found myself watching this DVD for the millionth time (OK so I might be exaggerating just a wee bit), I decided to view it from a different stance – through a ‘leadership lens’.

What I discovered was remarkable. I literally could not keep up with the multitude of material leaders can learn from this epic movie.

Here are just 5 leadership lessons I learned from the Avatar movie:

1. The greeting “I see you.” In the Na’vi language, it is expressed Oel ngati kame for a neutral greeting or Oel ngati kameie to express a positive feeling about meeting someone. Furthermore, the Na’vi have two versions of the verb see:

  • Tse’a, which pertains to physical vision.
  • Kame, which means to see in a spiritual sense. It is more closely a synonym of “understand” or “comprehend.”

“To see” is a cornerstone of Na’vi philosophy. It is to open the mind and heart to the present, and embrace Pandora as if encountering it for the very first time.

As leaders we can learn from this by taking an extra moment to really connect with people when we greet them – to really SEE them.

When we ask people how they are, stop and truly listen to the answer.  Be fully present, listening to those you are with, even if it’s only a brief water cooler encounter.

2. Do no harm to our planet. As we see at the bottom of many emails, we only have  this one, so let’s not stuff it up.  Avatar has a number of compelling messages about environmental sustainability. If your corporate is still raping and pillaging our planet, it’s time to get with the programme.

3. Seek to understand before being understood. As leaders, we must first show respect and understanding towards others before expecting that it is reciprocated. This applies to customers, employees and suppliers – all stakeholders with whom we interact. Jake Sully had to understand the ways of the Na’vi before they could accept and understand him.

4. Everything is connected. In Avatar, the roots system of the forest were completely interconnected and acted as one nervous system for the planet Pandora.

A business people we are part of a global community which is becoming smaller by the second. But even on an organisational level, great leaders get this. They are aware of the ripple effect of elements such as organisational change, restructuring, accidents (OSH) and even resignations.

They consider this paradigm in their communications and decision making because they are so finely attuned to organisational interconnectedness.

5. The value of ritual and ceremony. Part of Jake Sully’s training as a Na’vi was the ceremony performed when taking a life. This balanced the cycle of life and maintained harmony with nature. Rituals and ceremonies can be powerful ways to assist transformational cultural change and embed values.  See here for what I mean.

Although Avatar was a movie I have watched many times, I was able to view it from a new and exciting perspective, simply because I made a decision to do so.

There are leadership lessons to be gleaned all around us. All we need to do is flip the lense through which we view the world and open our eyes.

Do you have any learnings to add to the list above? Please leave your comments below.


  1. Tanya Houghton on March 12, 2014 at 10:38 pm

    great blog Suzie, I will watch it again this weekend with newly opened eyes. So true that we can learn leadership from everything around us.

    • The Leader's Digest on March 14, 2014 at 12:56 am

      Thanks for your feedback Tanya, I look forward to hearing your new discoveries – enjoy the process. Cheers, Suzi.

  2. saleswatchdog on March 11, 2014 at 9:51 am

    Reblogged this on saleswatchdog.

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Suzi McAlpine

Suzi McAlpine is a Leadership Development Specialist and author of the award-winning leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. She writes and teaches about accomplished leadership, what magic emerges when it’s present, and how to ignite better leadership in individuals, teams and organisations. Suzi has been a leader and senior executive herself, working alongside CEOs and executive teams in a variety of roles. Her experience has included being a head-hunter, an executive coach, and a practice leader for a division at the world’s largest HR consulting firm. Suzi provides a range of services as a Leadership Development Specialist, including executive coaching, leadership workshops and development programmes for CEOs, leadership teams and organisations throughout New Zealand.

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