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 Hear – if 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!