12 Most Explosive Leadership Lessons from Superhero Movies

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Superhero Action Figures

I am a HUGE fan of superhero movies. I didn’t grow up reading comic books, so I guess I can’t really call myself an enthusiast. But I find the movie genre to be downright exhilarating. Yes, they are cheesy. Yes, there are way too many of them. But there’s something inspiring about the motif of a hero rising from anonymity to overcome eminent danger and save humanity. For an inspiring leader, there is perhaps no greater entertainment.

1. X-Men: Leaders reconcile differences

“Mankind isn’t evil,” says Professor Xavier, “just uninformed.” The entire premise of the X-Men trilogy is the struggle to create harmony between humans and mutants. Professor X, leader of the mutant X-Men, fights against mutants that seek humanity’s demise and tries to reconcile the two parties. Great leaders, he demonstrates, are great mediators.

2. Spider-Man: Leaders don’t let their gifts go to waste

“With great power comes great responsibility.” Spider-man, throughout the trilogy, hangs onto to these words spoken to him by his murdered Uncle Ben. At one point, Spider-Man considers giving up the fight against crime, reasoning that he is free to do what he wants with his life. These words snap him back into reality. Great leaders don’t let their gifts go to waste but, rather, see them as a calling to do something heroic.

3. The Incredibles: Leaders know what’s most important

“You are my greatest adventure,” Mr. Incredible tells his family, “and I almost missed it.” Mr. Incredible, for much of the movie, longs for the days when he was adored by the masses. He focuses too much on the fame and glory of being a hero. In the end, when he almost loses his family, he realizes that he’s had his priorities mixed up. Great leaders know how to prioritize.

4. Batman Begins: Leaders show compassion

Bruce Wayne lives with a personal vendetta against the senseless crime responsible for the murder of his parents. But you’ll never see Batman kill anyone. Wayne’s nemisis, at one point, says to him, “Your compassion is a weakness your enemies will not share,” to which he responds, “That’s why it’s important. It separates us from them.” Leaders recognize the value of others and never act in such that indulges their sense of vengeance. Great leaders give second chances.

5. Fantastic Four: Leaders believe in teamwork

Throughout the movie, the members of the fantastic four are trying to deal with interpersonal issues. Each has problems with the others. At the end of the movie, it’s only through working together that they can defeat their enemy. Cheesy? Yea. True? Even more so. Great leaders recognize the value of teamwork.

6. Transformers: Leaders see potential in others

“They’re a young species. They have much to learn. But I’ve seen goodness in them,” says Optimus Prime, leader of the Transformers, in regards to human beings. Even though the Autobots are vastly superior technologically, Optimus is willing to risk his life and the lives of his men to save humanity…because he sees their potential. Great leaders see big potential in “little” people.

7. Iron Man: Leaders value their legacy

“I had my eyes opened,” says Tony Stark of his time in captivity. “I came to realize that I have more to offer the world than just making things that blow up.” Tony, who becomes Iron Man, becomes a leader when he starts thinking of the legacy he wants to leave behind. Great leaders wish to be remembered for their benevolent contributions to society, not their level of wealth or power.

8. The Incredible Hulk: Leaders exercise self-control

Can this one be any more obvious? Bruce Banner must be constantly vigilant about his temper because, when he’s angry, he turns into a giant, destructive, green monster. Great leaders do not fly off the handle. Great leaders are calm and collected. Great leaders resist the green monster inside them.

9. The Dark Knight: Leaders inspire hope

“Because sometimes the truth isn’t good enough,” says detective Gordon. “Sometimes, people deserve more.” A lot of sick things are happening in Gotham with the rise of the joker. But Batman makes a choice that enables the people hold onto hope. Great leaders do not bog their followers down with negativity and cynicism. They inspire their people with a positive perspective and push them toward hope.

10. Thor: Leaders are humble

Thor’s character, for the majority of the movie, is arrogant, self-willed, and obnoxious. It isn’t until he is stripped of his kingship and cast from the heavens that he finds humility in self-sacrifice. Great leaders think of others before they think of themselves. They don’t brag about their strengths or accomplishments but, instead, allow others to do so. Great leaders are great servants.

11. Green Lantern: Leaders conquer their fears

“The ring did not see that you are fearless,” Hal Jordan’s friend says to him, “it saw that you have the ability to overcome fear.” Just in the nick of time, Hal sees that he is able to conquer his fear by admitting it to himself. Great leaders do not deny their fears or vulnerabilities. They simply act in spite of them. And, in doing so, they are able to both overcome and inspire victory in others.

12. Captain America: Leaders don’t forget where they come from

“What makes you so special?” Asks the Red Skull, Captain America’s nemesis. “Nothing,” he responds, “I’m just a kid from Brooklyn.” Steven Rogers, who became Captain America through a genetic-enhancing operation, started off as a scrawny and yet gutsy kid trying relentlessly to get into the military to serve his country in WWII. When he actually gets muscles, he stays the same man inside. Great leaders remember their roots, and it keeps them humble and steadfast.

There are many great superhero movies out there, with amazing lessons for leaders. What am I missing?

This post was originally published November 24, 2011 on 12most.com. Be sure to check out the site, which has all kinds of great articles on marketing, leadership, and living a fuller life–written by some extraordinarily smart people.

Featured image courtesy of Joel Formales licensed via Creative Commons.
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About Douglas E Rice

Douglas E Rice is just a guy who likes to learn stuff.
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