Furry Leadership: A Business Fable from the Movie "Happy Feet"

08 May 2014 | Guest Poster

A Phenomenological Reflection

Guest Post by Alex Schluter MATPhilo MPhil (@boserwolfs). Alex took up AB Philosophy, Cum Laude, in Universidad de Navarra, Pamplona Spain; his Master of Arts in Teaching Philosophy at Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium; and his Advanced Master in Philosophy Major in Continental Philosophy, specializing in Phenomenology at the same University. He can also sing and dance.

Open your eyes to the potential of leadership. As you understand leadership with a "little l", you see there are small things each of us can do every day to positively influence our customers, colleagues, friends, and communities. True leadership isn't about power over people; it is about power with people. "Leader" is defined as "one who organizes a group of people to achieve a common goal," how true that is!
- You Don’t Need A Title to Be A Leader: How Anyone, Anywhere, Can Make a Positive Difference, by Mark Sanborn


There is no question that we idealize leaders. When you are asked to define leadership, do you visualize "great" leaders or front-line supervisors? We seem to need leaders to be larger-than-life figures, people we can admire and look up to, just as we did our parents, particularly our fathers. Indeed it is arguable that the stereotypical leader is a substitute father-figure.

It is no surprise that we expect leaders to look after us, be nice to us, pay attention to our needs and inspire us with visions of glory. We all have dreams of a bright future, and we look to leaders to help us realize our dreams.

But isn't it dis-empowering to depend so much on one person? Have we not outgrown our need to depend on our parents or their substitutes? Can we not find our own way and show leadership ourselves? Happy Feet shows us a way.

Happy Feet is a movie about Mumble, a penguin. The conflict in the movie is a conflict about values, sparked by a food shortage in the penguin community.

Mumble places value on searching for the cause of the depletion of their food (fish). However, the leader of the community places value on the status quo: to remain and not to explore.

Let us consider the natural attitudes of these two penguins: the community leader is conservative and prefers not to act; Mumble is curious but this makes him an outsider. Their natural attitudes have affected their responses to the situation. We see that Mumble has a belief in his heart, which creates a conviction, which moves him to act upon their problem, and discover what has happened to the fish.

Mumble's belief and conviction transcends his natural attitude of mere curiosity. The situation, and Mumble's experiences (the combination of his curiosity and his outsider status), create a transcendental attitude where he feels he must act. It is the value he places on the community that motivates his personality, and that motivation is firmly constituted in his person. To put it another way: through his transcendental attitude, we can say that his transcendental ego has an act (noesis) and content (noema); respectively, his valuing of the penguin community, and the community itself.

"What dominant act we encounter in the person is his act-character, which will sediment into a habitus to become his or her personality."


Mumble's transcendental attitude moves him to act at once: the immanentizing of his objective. Unfortunately the leader of the penguin community remains in his natural attitude, and stays closed to the possibilities offered by Mumble.

The leader casts Mumble from the penguin community. But while Mumble leaves the community in person, he never leaves it in spirit. The community is a part of him even while he is apart from it, and with this in his heart he continues his quest to solve the community's problem.

Mumble's belief in the possibility of helping the community has strengthened through his experiences. The opposition he has received, and his experience of being outcast, has turned his belief into a conviction.

"The more one ascertains his belief through critique the more his actions or behavior flow efficiently from the said belief."


In a way, Mumble brings to mind our great father Socrates. Amidst false accusations he continued to stand for his convictions. Socrates stood out and died for the truth.

Mumble, propelled by his convictions, eventually learns the cause of the depletion of the penguin community's food. He has to return to the community and find a way to convince them to adopt their own transcendental attitude. But how?

Mumble teaches the penguins in the community a tap dance, one that comes spontaneously to him, one step at a time. He teaches them step by step, a rigorous and tedious process. Such a process is required for him to lead the others towards the transcendental attitude that "the community is present in each member!": the immanentizing of the community.

Little by little the elders of the penguin community start to follow Mumble, as he teaches them the steps of the tap dance. Or, to put it another way, he has opened the way to the transcendental attitude where there is immanence in the transcendental ego and the transcendental object (respectively, each penguin, and the penguin community). He opens himself, and themselves, to the truth of what he has learned. And the day is saved.

When our convictions flow out from a transcendental attitude, so there is immanentizing of the furry community, then like Mumble we will be driven to do good and become heroes and leaders among our fellow furs. With the conviction that everything we do has a communal dimension, no matter how little or even how secret, our actions will have a communal effect.

If we perform good and heroic acts for the furry community, those acts will have a good and heroic effect in the furry community. If we act badly, our actions will also be felt, directly or indirectly. We cannot escape the communal effects of our actions. And better still, our actions reinforce that we cannot not escape from the community while we act as part of it.

We furries can create opportunities for ourselves, where there will be the constitution or institution of this transcendental attitude; the immanentizing of the community (ego-cogitas-cogitationes-cogitatum). This is a challenge for all of us, furries and non-furries alike. We have to create an atmosphere that will provide a community consciousness, where one is aware that he or she carries with him or her the community, even as he or she is doing his or her "personal" routine. We do it step by step.

A leader is drawn from a community; formed in a community; and will serve in a community!