Quotes And Leadership Lessons From The Paper Tigers

A Reel Leadership Article

My latest book, Reel Leadership, is now available on Amazon. If you love movies and leadership, you will love this book.

The Paper Tigers is a new release on Netflix. The theaters are seeing a bit of a dry spell and I figure it’s time to check some Netflix films off of the watchlist.

The trailer for The Paper Tigers intrigued me. The look and feel made it seem like it would be similar to the old kung-fu action movies we all used to love.

Main cast, The Paper Tigers, standing above a pool with one having their arm raised.

I wasn’t far off. There was more comedy and growth than I expected throughout the movie.

If you’re looking for an endearing tale of three brothers who go their separate way only to reunite, this is the movie for you.

If you’re looking for a movie that teaches leadership lessons, you’ll find that here as well. Today, we’re going to look at the leadership lessons in The Paper Tigers.

Quotes And Leadership Lessons From The Paper Tigers

1. Great leaders push their people:

A young Danny (Kieran Tamondong) and his friends are trained by their Sifu Cheung (Roger Yuan). During their training, we see Cheung push Danny hard.

Sifu Cheung forces Danny to move into the challenging eagle position while atop paint cans. Danny falls and is injured.

While Cheung pushed Danny beyond his current limits, Cheung’s efforts helped produce an effective student of Gung Fu (what the Chinese refer to kung fu as).

Great leaders know they cannot let their people sit idle, unchallenged. Great leaders offer challenges to those they lead. They push them, sometimes to their limits.

Don’t be afraid to push and prod your people. The more you require out of them, the more you will receive from them.

2. Master leaders fall:

The Paper Tigers opens with the death of Cheung. He is struck down mysteriously. Officially, the police label his death as a heart attack.

Viewers know more. We see a shadowy figure has taken down the master.

While I hope you never are struck down by someone you’ve trained, all leaders will fall at some point. A leader’s fall doesn’t have to be a moral failure (we see a lot of those, huh?). No, leaders will fall due to old age, sickness, and personal issues.

We have to be ready for when our leaders fall. We have to be prepared to help them up, hold them up, and be there for them through their trials.

3. Caryn (Jae Suh Park):

When you say you’re going to do something, do it.

Danny (Alain Uy) had been a student of Cheung’s. He’s now a divorcee, the former husband of Caryn. He’s also the father of a young boy named Ed (Joziah Lagonoy).

Caryn and Ed are waiting for Danny to show up. It was time for him to pick up his son for their joint custody.

Danny was late. Caryn was mad. Caryn brought up the topic of 50/50 custody. And Caryn wanted Danny to keep his word.

Are you like Danny? Do you struggle to keep your word to those you lead? To your family?

This isn’t how a leader leads. A leader leads by keeping their word.

If you say you’re going to do something, do it.

4. People see through pretenders:

Carter (Matthew Page) had been beaten time and again by Danny. However, when Danny and his friends left the world of Gung Fu, Carter did not. He continued with his training (maybe helped on by his use of steroids?).

In one scene, Carter says, “We Chinese have a saying.” Carter is white as white bread. There was no Chinese in him.

Yet, he held onto the notion he had somehow become Chinese. He was pretending…

Where are you pretending? What are you saying you are that you’re not?

Leaders are not pretenders. Leaders step into the challenges in front of them without claiming to be something they’re not.

Stop pretending. Start leading.

5. Booker (Tee Dennard):

All I hear is your mouth, fathopper.

Booker is a trainer in Jim’s (Mykel Shannon Jenkins) gym. Danny and Hing (Ron Yuan) go to the gym to talk to Jim.

There, they find a young man kicking a punching bag. Hing pipes up that the young man is kicking the bag wrong. The sound isn’t there.

Booker speaks up. He tells Hing that all Hing is doing is running his mouth.


It’s true, though. Hing was running his mouth. He was talking, talking, talking. There was no action.

We can find ourselves in a similar situation as Hing. We know what to do. We know how things should be done.

But we stay back. We flap our lips. We never participate.

Great leaders don’t run their mouths. They step into the struggle. They help people grow and become better.

Stop talking. Start doing.

6. Find a rallying point:

Hing, Danny, and Jim had been the three Paper Tigers. They were a force to be reckoned with back in the day.

In current times, the three had relationship troubles with one another. They couldn’t stand being together.

However, Hing reminded them of why they were together now. Their master, their Sifu, had died.

Having a rallying point got the three of them to work together again.

Sifu Cheung was the rallying point for the once-great Paper Tigers. What’s the rally point for your team? Do you have one?

Find a topic, a goal, or a mission for your people to rally around. A rallying point can help create unity and push your people forward.

7. Sifu Cheung:

Gung Fu without honor is just fighting.

Cheung knew there was more to Gung Fu than fighting. There was honor behind it.

He reminded his three students of this when they were young. This message carried through once the students reunited.

I want to tell you that leadership without honor is worthless. It’s meaningless.

If you cannot lead with honor, you cannot lead. Honor is required to lead.

8. We can know what we need to do but struggle to do it:

Danny and the rest of the Paper Tigers fought a crew of young thugs: Chief (Phillip Dang), Boi (Brian Le), and Fu (Andy Le). The trio fought each other.

Danny had his butt handed to him. He was taken out quickly.

The thing was, Danny knew what to do. He knew how to move. His body just wouldn’t move right.

We’ve all been there. We’ve all known what to do only to struggle actually doing what needed to be done.

Sometimes this is because we’re out of practice. Or it may be that we’re not in the right mindset. Another reason could be sickness.

If you find yourself in this position, know you’re not alone. Also, know that you cannot stay there.

You can overcome this feeling of not being able to do what needs to be done.

9. Carter:

When a man’s virtue exceeds his talent, he becomes the superior man.

Carter was always dispensing “Chinese” wisdom one-liners. The Paper Tigers called this his fortune cookie platitudes.

However, this piece of advice is something leadership should think long and hard on.

When a leader’s virtue exceeds his talent, he becomes the superior leader. Whoa!

So many times, we think our abilities determine how good of a leader we are. I want to challenge you to look at your virtues. The more virtuous you are, the better leader you become.

10. The power of belief:

The Paper Tigers had to fight the movie’s villain, Zhen Fan (Ken Quitugua). Hing tried to fight him first without Danny being there. Since Hing wasn’t the number one Paper Tiger, he beat him to a pulp but left him alive as a calling sign for the remaining two Paper Tigers.

Danny and Jim track down Zhen Fan. Danny takes on the fight as he is considered the best Paper Tiger.

After the first round, Jim gives Danny a couple of pills. He tells Danny the pills are Aspirin.

After the second round, Danny said he couldn’t feel the Aspirin working. However, he had felt the pills work at the beginning of the second round.

Jim told the truth. The pills he gave Danny were sugar pills.

As Jim put it, the power of belief helped Danny feel better.

What are you believing? What you believe will guide how you feel.

If you believe things are horrible, they will be horrible. Look on the bright side and see the possibilities? Possibilities will open up.

Use the power of belief to improve how you think, feel, and lead.

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