Learning From The Apes

Aug 08, 2014 1 Min Read

Photo source: H. Michael Karshis

Leadership styles of Caesar and Koba

After watching the movie Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, I couldn’t help pondering the debate between theology and modern science about human evolution, a theory made famous by Charles Darwin.

In my humble opinion, humans may or may not have evolved from apes, but humans certainly do behave like them to a certain extent – at least from the psychological, behavioral and emotional standpoint. Both share the ability to reflect and learn from their experiences.

Despite being a movie mainly about apes, I must say that Caesar and Koba represent two possible human responses in the real world.

Koba portrays fear, mistrust and tribalism. Caesar, on the other hand, represents a leader of peace without compromising the safety of the tribe, and working towards forgiveness and understanding even when he has been offended or mistreated.

I must apologise in advance for there may be spoilers in this article.

Caesar helms a community of apes and exhibits much of the modern human leadership values. Koba, an adviser to Caesar, held on to grudges from being severely tortured by humans when he was a lab animal undergoing medical experiments.

The movie conveyed that while peace was the intention of mankind and apes, war was inevitable in determining who would emerge as Earth’s dominant species. In short, one cannot watch this movie without appreciating the beauty of its leadership lessons.

The following is what I gathered from watching the movie:

1. Be a leader who embraces good values

John David Rockefeller says,

Every right implies a responsibility, every opportunity an obligation, every possession a duty.

By becoming a leader, one must realise that it is more of a calling than a personal agenda. It should be a calling to serve and lead the community, i.e. from bad to good, and good to better.

In the movie, Caesar understood that being a leader is about having the responsibility to watch over his growing nation of genetically-evolved apes and lead with great influence of good values.

Caesar holds a great philosophy of peace and love for one another. In fact, he led by the philosophy of “ape shall not kill ape” which proves that despite their barbaric nature, anyone of their own kind should not kill another. Instead, they should be looking out for each other.

However, it is a distressing fact that in this modern day, humans are often blinded by their misconception about leadership.

It’s also inevitable for anyone to crave power under great leadership. Koba portrayed an example of such. Despite having a great leader, Caesar, whom he admired, Koba’s hunger for power led him to shoot Caesar from afar, just so he could gain power to lead the community of apes into war with mankind.

Koba led the apes with values conflicting with that of his predecessor – he led with anger by instilling fear amongst the apes when he killed Ash, one of his kind. Truly, a great leader should instill love, not fear.

2. Be a leader who manages emotions well

In the movie, Koba being the once-trusted ape of Caesar fell into the trap of anger because of his painful past with mankind; to the extent of betraying Caesar and wrestling power away to carry out his revenge against mankind.

A true leader should not let his/her emotions take control from within. Emotion is often a vague feeling, influenced by environment, circumstances, experience, culture and perceptions.

In my opinion, a community needs a reliable leader who has an undeviating vision. A leader should have vision but should certainly shy away from depending on his/her emotions in a decision-making process.

A leader should always strive to manage his/her emotions well to ensure objectives and wise decisions are made. If all else fails, a leader should always acknowledge the overall benefit of the community and act for the greater good, beyond his/her own interests.

3. Be a leader who focuses on long-term goals

Koba: “We should go to war with humans.”
Caesar: “We should not and this is our only chance to make peace for both parties.”

A great leader should always be foresighted and look at a long-term goal for the community he/she leads. Some leaders declare hostility against another community to fulfill their personal ego for power.

The movie teaches us to think and behave like Caesar who embraces love and peace; it’s definitely not due to cowardice but for the greater benefit for the communities of apes and humans. Personally, I believe it requires more courage to give up one’s ego than to feed it.

During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln had an occasion at an official reception to refer to the Southerners as erring human beings rather than enemies to be exterminated. An elderly woman, a fiery patriot, rebuked him for speaking kindly of his enemies when he ought to be thinking of destroying them.

“Why, madam,” said Abraham Lincoln, “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?” It’s such a powerful quote and it truly manifests the real wisdom of a true leader.

4. Be a leader of courage

Nelson Mandela once said,

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.

A true leader should always act courageously, in spite of storms ahead because a leader always has a vision beyond the storm.

Malcolm, the human counterpart to Caesar, persevered despite knowing the risks associated with repairing the dam that could potentially save mankind, and even after seeing the danger of being confronted by apes.

A true leader must always be ready to be confronted with failures, offences and resistance, but never give up on temporary failures or setbacks to achieve success.

5. Be a leader who forgives and moves on

As simple as this may seem, a leader should have a forgiving heart to make peace and move on for greater advancement.

A true leader must appreciate the saying by Martin Luther King that

darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

“Humans won’t forgive,” Caesar claimed in one of the final scenes. The movie ended the same way it began.

The danger of unforgiveness is a never-ending war. Despite knowing this fact theoretically, leaders often indulge in prideful acts to prove a point or to dictate power.

Personally, I’ve learnt that it’s a cycle that will never end. Truly, the end always results in two parties suffering. So, when will they stop?

Let’s be leaders who will determine the outcome in a positive and harmonious way.

Jermaine heads the learning and development team in Leaderonomics and is passionate about leadership development. For programmes on leadership development and application in the workplace, email jermaine.bee@leaderonomics.com. For more articles on leadership, click HERE! 

Share This



This article is published by the editors of Leaderonomics.com with the consent of the guest author. 

You May Also Like

Leaderonomics and GLS images

Leading In A Disruptive World: Key Takeaways from the Global Leadership Summit 2023 (Part 1)

By Kiran Tuljaram. From fostering thriving relationships to harnessing the power of incremental improvements, gain invaluable insights applicable in personal, professional, and societal contexts.

Dec 05, 2023 10 Min Read


Raise Your Game: Datuk Dr Fowzi’s Leadership Legacy

Datuk Dr Mohd Fowzi Bin Hj Razi was the executive managing director of Suria Capital Holdings Bhd and among the greatest Malaysian leaders out there.

Sep 07, 2015 23 Min Podcast


Start From The Grassroots And Keep Trying

Roshan Thiran as he interviews former Everton, Liverpool and Aston Villa professional football player, Steve McMahon on his personal journey

Oct 06, 2016 30 Min Video

Be a Leader's Digest Reader