What The Lion King Can Teach Us about Digital Coaching

I love The Lion King. The soundtrack, everything about the film, and the story behind the story.

The Lion King was the first CD I ever owned, and I remember pawing through the well-worn inside cover booklet as fondly as I do singing my favorite tracks. Recently I had the urge to listen to it again while driving to work. Decades since last playing it, the characters, words, and memories of the songs came flooding back to me, feeling somewhat like a paradoxical spring tide of nostalgia and the fountain of youth.

But not just youth. Aside from feeling a warm, heartfelt glow and insatiable desire to break into song, I became freshly aware of the richness and depth of wisdom that echoes through this timeless film, as well as the practical relevance.

Three of the characters in particular popped up in my mind as archetypes with a new story to share, stretching beyond the savannah into the world of digital coaching.

Rafiki: The Coach

After hitting Simba over the head with a stick, Rafiki says to the bewildered lion cub “It’s in the past. Oh yes, the past can hurt. But from the way I see it, you can either run from it, or… learn from it.”

Lesson for digital coaching

Rafiki’s constant curiosity and the questioning that follows are something that we intentionally emulate at Cognician. He poses challenging questions (often rhetorical) for Simba rather than giving him answers, shares wisdom at key points if necessary, and encourages him to find his own way, at his own pace. Digital coaching needs to be designed to impart a sense of curiosity and fascination about the journey of the user, offering thought-provoking questions that spark the kind of ideas that impact hearts and minds, to the point where the growing impetus for change organically tips over into new behaviors. At no point is the decision about what to do, how to do it or when to do it up to the coach – it is all about the user, just as Rafiki let it be all about Simba. Rafiki is unaffected by Simba’s frustrations at not always seeing the answers straight away. He reminds Simba that all situations, even the tough ones, are about learning, and no one can learn your lessons for you. You have to walk your own yards.

Rafiki also says to Simba, “Look harder”. This is another key aspect of automated coaching, where the user can be encouraged and challenged to shift their perspective and dig deeper, and then even deeper still, to shed new light on a situation – the kind of light that leads to breakthroughs, and extends our map wider into the territory beyond the Shadowlands. In everyday conversations, there often isn’t enough time dedicated to this kind of depth, and even in-person coaching sessions are time-bound. Digital coaching, on the other hand, really does create a safe space for the user to take all the time they need to reach where they need to go and to activate behavior change.

Mufasa: The Visionary Leader

After his death, Mufasa appears to Simba as a constellation of stars and says to his heir “Look inside yourself Simba. You are more than what you have become.”

Lesson for digital coaching

Mufasa saw the potential in Simba, and challenged him to tap into it by looking within. He doesn’t explain anything to him, he doesn’t give him any answers, and he doesn’t ask any questions either – he shares his vision with Simba, trusting that Simba will find for himself who he needs to be. In this way, Mufasa challenges Simba in a different way than Rafiki does.

Digital coaching needs to encourage users to take time to reflect, and to also call them up into their fullest capacity to expand their potential and make their unique contribution to the world. The way each of us does this is specific to us, and we have to discover how to do that for ourselves. Each of our capacity to develop and learn is infinite, and automated coaching is all about creating a space where one’s ideas about one’s own limitations can be challenged and changed, again and again. Mufasa knows, with the calm, unshakeable assuredness of a true leader, that Simba is the rightful king. Mufasa also didn’t cling to his title as king, as he knew his time as king would not be forever. Visionary leaders can leverage digital coaching as a tool to develop those who are in their succession plans, to help them feel supported while they develop to the level they are ready to, before they will be called to step up. It can be a resource that anyone can turn to at any stage of their lives to explore new depths as well as aim for new heights.

Simba: The High Potential

In the film, Simba is first shown as both a young cub, and then as an adult lion. Through his experiences, and being challenged by Rafiki (his coach) and Mufasa (his leader), he grows into the courageous lion and king both of his advocates knew he could be. He overcomes the loss of his father and the challenges thrown at him by Scar (who typifies the manipulative, self-interested micromanager archetype), and comes out the other side more ready to be king than he would have been without those difficult situations. With the right kind of challenge, reflection and stretching, he stepped up into his potential.

Lesson for digital coaching

Creating a space where users can pause, reflect, and process their experiences through a progression of intentional questions can help individuals to realize that they are developing and growing. Without being challenged and called out by Rafiki and Mufasa, and even confronted by Scar, Simba may not have been the kind of king he needed to be. This highlights for us the power of the digital coaching environment, that is dedicated to focusing on the user and supporting them as they courageously take steps toward their own growth. The first towards activating behavior change is becoming aware of what is happening, reflecting on it, realizing what they need to do and then taking action to bring the learning to life.

As we design our digital coaching programs, I realize that it is of great use to draw inspiration from multiple sources. Keeping the Coach, the Visionary Leader and the High Potential in mind while designing can challenge us to see things from different perspectives ourselves, and to create a well-rounded experience for our users. A film like The Lion King helped me see with fresh eyes the potential that automated coaching has to serve multiple purposes in the workplace, all of which ultimately serve to provide a platform for multi-level development for the users who experience it, and highlights the power of characters and storytelling in the experiences we create.

Which seemingly everyday experiences have inspired any of the learning programs, or aspects thereof, that you have created?