7 Leadership Lessons from Iron Man


Leadership lessons are everywhere, if we would just open our eyes and ears. Sometimes they come from the most unlikely sources. While watching the film Iron Man with my family for the second time, I sat in amazement while the leadership lessons I had not noticed the first time, unfolded before my eyes. I share the 7 Leadership Lessons from Iron Man with you now.

1) Learn from Your Mistakes – Leaders will make mistakes, but they learn something from every one. Robert Downey Jr.’s character, Tony Stark, is a genius, but he makes mistakes, as we all do. When he is captured by a terrorist group he is shocked into analyzing his predicament, and begins to learn from the mistakes he has made throughout his life. The lesson for us is that we will make mistakes throughout our life, especially as we strive and stretch a little further than we can reach. It allows us to grow, but we become more prone to make mistakes once in a while. When leaders make mistakes, they analyze what they did, learn from it, and move on.

2) Develop Your Sense of Social Responsibility – Tony Stark thought he had a sense of social responsibility. His rationale was that his company had to produce weapons so that the “bad guys” could be kept at bay. The ordeal he went through caused him to realize that this false sense of social responsibility was a result of  justifying an illogical position. When he saw that the weapons he produced were falling into the wrong hands, he finally came to his senses and to the unpopular decision to stop producing weapons, a true social responsibility. Good and thoughtful leaders develop a solid sense of social responsibility as they realize that they and the organizations they lead, are part of a much larger whole.

3) Don’t Allow People to Filter what You Need to Hearif you allow it, some people will try to filter what you should hear. Tony Stark was “filtered” by his supposed right hand man, Obadiah Stane, who did not have Stark’s best interests at heart. A good leader plugs into the organization at various levels to make sure that they get unfiltered communication and feedback. In this manner, they are in tune with what is really going on, and they make better decisions.

4) Don’t Engage in Spin Doctoring – Obadiah Stane was a spin doctor. When Tony Stark announced that he was shutting down the weapons manufacturing division of his company, Stane jumped to the podium and declared to the press, “What we should take away from this is that Tony’s back! And he’s healthier than ever. We’re going to have a little internal discussion and we’ll get back to you with the follow-up”. This is classic spin doctoring (I know because I am not proud to say that I did it a lot in my past).  Rather than tell the truth, and face the facts, Obadiah “spun” an answer. Good leaders don’t spin. Instead, they face the music, tell the truth, pull no punches and meet the issues head on.

5) Let Down Your Facade and Really Communicate - one of the most difficult things I had to learn as a leader, was to get off my high horse, come back down to earth, and communicate. Big words, sophisticated phrasing, complex concepts, and boring analogies and cliches just don´t come across as straightforward and honest. When Tony Stark sat down on the floor at the press conference and just plain talked to people, he was able to communicate his true beliefs and feelings, and to come across credibly. That is what great leaders do, strip away all of the fancy stuff, and just, plain, talk.

6) Develop and Follow Your Noble Cause - you can´t lead unless people are willing to follow. But how do you get people to follow you? Dave Logan, of Tribal Leadership fame tells us that it´s a noble cause that attracts people to a leader, and keeps them engaged and involved. Tony Stark´s first cause, supplying the war machine with weapons, isn´t very noble. But when he develops and talks about his real noble cause, those that have been profiting from the first cause run for the hills, and the true admirers line up solidly behind him. Good leaders have integrity and great skills, as Chris Widener tells us, but great leaders also develop and communicate a noble cause that they follow, and that is what draws followers to them.

7) Never Give Up on What You Believe In - in The Crisis, Thomas Paine described how the summer soldier and the sunshine patriot would “shrink from the service of their country” when the going got tough. It´s only the resilient souls who would stand against the hard blowing winds for what they believe in. Even though he is ultra rich, and has it all and could easily walk away from the fight, Tony Stark doesn’t give in, and doesn’t give up.  Great leaders work through the tough times and stand up for what they believe in, even when it is unpopular. They never give up.

When I took a closer look at Iron Man, I saw these leadership lessons I had missed before. It has reminded me to keep my eyes and ears open, because one never knows where a leadership lesson may be lurking.

What about you? What leadership lessons have you encountered in some unlikely mediums? Share them with us!

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About Enrique Fiallo

I am an author, lecturer, speaker and blogger. My life experience includes roles as a CEO, CIO, COO, Chief Technologist, Teacher, Product Manager and Scrum Master.
This entry was posted in Leadership, Personal Development and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to 7 Leadership Lessons from Iron Man

  1. Reblogged this on dominickatemmanuel and commented:
    In Henry Fiallo’s 03/15/14 post in his blog, “The Way, Purposeful and Deliberate Leadership; 7 Lessons from Ironman. Henry’s lesson # 6 is
    “Develop and follow a noble cause.” This reminded me of what Fr. Robert Spitzer, SJ, President of Gonzaga University, shares with leaders in his outstanding book, “The Spirit of Leadership” (Ignatius Press):
    Henry said that we “…can’t lead unless others follow…;” Fr. Spitzer offers that one of the essential elements and tangible proofs of dynamic, excellent leadership is what we know as, “Esprit de corps.” We know esprit de corps. when we experience it. While the literal translation from the French, is “the spirit of the corps (or team, unit, group, company, etc.); modern use of the term typically does not mean to emphasize or even include the spiritual dimension of a group of people, rather, it refers to something which is very real, something which we find empirical evidence of through that human sense which enables us to know that something is real, even when we can not see, touch, hear, taste, or feel it. Oh, sure, we “feel” spirit de corps., but not literally.
    Isn’t it more a “sense” of something rally, actually existing, something is present? Henry tells us that great leaders develop, communicate and follow a noble. He infers that when said cause is found virtuous or meritorious enough, the leader’s noble cause, contributes importantly to his leadership effectiveness.
    So, given the diversity of most, even small groups, let alone business units, departments and companies themselves; and the highly subjective positions we have, even on what is truly moral, ethical, on what defines integrity, what noble cause can we all rally around, commit and be dedicated to? Well, Fr. Spitzer tells us that we all, “want to be happy.”
    It seems that the pursuit of happiness is a universally common realty of the human person. While the details (or specific aspects) of what makes each of us happy vary greatly, do we not all need and want inner peace and a sense knowing how we personally fit in, what our reason and purpose of existence is?
    No, I’m, not going to address the great existential questions which man has always asked here. I will share with one profound (at least I think it so) insight which Fr. Spitzer teaches us and I sense is just such a noble cause which Henry tells us great leaders have. Fr. Spitzer tells us about the “4 levels of happiness.” The 3rd level (and therefore not the pinnacle) of happiness is, “gratification/happiness from or through serving others.”
    I close asking you to think about, when was the last time you were deeply satisfied, truly having that experience of gratification, gratification that involved all of your being, your heart (emotions), mind, spirit and even your physical/material reality; what is when you did something for yourself or for someone else? I don’t know about you but nothing makes me “happier” than giving, doing for or serving another, a family member, friend, co-worker, or a complete stranger.
    What’s that all about? Is doing for and serving others one of the noble
    causes Henry encourages great leaders (and all the rest of us, I’m sure)
    to do and to be?

  2. Dan Black says:

    I’m always on the look out for leadership lessons when I’m watching TV/Videos. I really enjoyed reading your points, especially learning from mistakes.

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