Does The Iron Man Suit Make The Man?
We are heading into a world where the interests and values of leaders who continue to grow will gradually come to displace the interests and values of those who are not.
We’ve always known there are lots of lessons in the films we watch. Actors run businesses as they are acting and many story lines involve a crisis in the business or challenge before them. So we learn between the lines.
James Bond–A hero and his villains. Could they be MBA models for management?
I exposed my daughter to the glories of James Bond before she was born by dragging her mother and baby in the womb to a 007 Double Feature on Broadway in NYC. Now also hooked on Bond, recently she and her husband laughed about developing a leadership course on the lessons that could be learned from the James Bond villains.
With Leadership lessons scattered all around us, even at the movies, if we open our eyes and ears we find that sometimes they come from the most unlikely sources --- as they do in the film “Iron Man”.
Iron Man --the film series—has had an outstanding audience response which proves that even a lesser-known action hero can hit it big as a business manager who has a job just like a lot of us. Tony Stark is a leader. Not only is he a genius, but also he runs Stark Industries (his father’s corporation) and fights crime as super hero Iron Man in his spare time. No bowling night for him.
Does Tony’s iron suit make him a super hero?
To ensure your career is “super”, here are some leadership lessons we see. One of the strengths of the saga is that Tony Stark/Iron Man is not perfect, but ultimately successful. Like him, we all run organizations, what can we learn from this man of cloth and iron and glean some of his tips for success?
A Little Background On Our Hero
Iron Man, like knights of old, is identified by the amour he wears. The best-dressed of the Marvel heroes, he has changed his look frequently since his comic book debut in 1963, but he can afford to: the man who wears the suits (and designs them) is a wealthy inventor.
Tony runs the huge business empire, a fictional multi-billion dollar multinational corporation. His job becomes one of transforming the business started by his late father into a business more relevant to today.
Let’s take a closer look at the protagonist of the Iron Man tale, brash Tony Stark. Tony soon develops a problem. Part of his issue is dealing with the fact that much of his father’s work ended up with missiles that were turned against his own people. This was a life changing awareness for Tony.
In the movie, Tony, while testing experimental transistor powered weapons in the desert war zone, is injured by an exploding booby trap and is captured by the enemy. Fatally injured by a piece of shrapnel that is working its way toward his heart, Stark is ordered to spend his last days inventing new armaments for the evil warlords.
Instead he constructs a suit of transistorized amour that also serves as a pacemaker to keep his heart beating. As Iron Man, he conquers his foes and manages to escape, but he is doomed to remain at least partially encased in metal until the day he dies.
On a personal note, what sparks changes in our thinking? How do we approach our work in a different manner and does it affect those around us. Our transformation must come fast to guide us and motivate us to learn. Just as in the real management world, life as Iron Man was never a bed of roses.
So how are we like Tony? Let’s unreel the movies and see what we can learn.
1. Making Mistakes
Learning from our mistakes - Leaders make mistakes, but they learn something from every one. Tony Stark is a genius, but he makes some big mistakes. Big ones! When he is captured by a terrorist group he is shocked into analyzing the predicament he is in 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 lives, especially as we strive and stretch a little further than we can reach. It allows us to grow, but we become more prone to making mistakes as a learning tool.
Since we all make mistakes, I created a phrase about making mistakes.
“Experience is a bunch of mistakes”.
- The only way to grow is to take risks. And risks are called risks because they can sometimes fail.
- Action + Risk = Experience
- Ladies and Gentlemen, we are in the business of selling EXPERIENCE.
When leaders make mistakes, they analyze what they did, learn from it, and move on. If we take the risk of including innovation or change into our work, the outcome may include making a mistake. And gaining experience.
TRUST is vital for any business manager or CEO desiring to build a highly resilient and productive team or business. There is an absolute link between high-performing organizations that have a trusting leader and teams that feel secure.
What would your employees say about you and the security they feel in the workplace?
Tony has to deal with misplaced trust. In Stark Industries, he puts his trust in the hands of his business partner. Not so good.
It has been said that trust is the new workplace currency. The Edelman Trust Barometer surveyed more than 31,000 respondents in 26 markets and measured their trust in institutions, industries and leaders. Consider these observations:
- "Official company-issued communications are distrusted by workers of all levels."
- "Only 18 percent of the general population trust business leaders to tell the truth regardless of how complex or unpopular the truth is."
In my coaching practice, I find that trust is a commodity that has been often lost or misplaced. We need to find it and pronto.
But trust may not be where you think it will be. Trust is the glue that holds businesses and relationships together. Without it, none of the legal agreements in the world do any real good. Tony had to build his trust with each person, slowly and strategically.
3. Work as a Team
While time alone is important, Stark is nothing without his team. He relies on Pepper Potts for her honesty and loyalty. In The Avengers, he works with an entire team to protect New York City from the villain.
Leadership requires the ability to establish and rely on a strong team. Iron Man discovered that to achieve what he wants he needs to work with a trusted/trusting team.
How did this happen? Probably the biggest change for Tony in the movie was his move from isolation to group.
At first, he is content to tinker in his workshop alone. Pepper tries to engage him in a broader world. But he says no.
That is, until he is later marooned in a desert cave with only another prisoner to assist him in the building of the powerful rockets for evil intent.
Through the process of trust building with the fellow prisoner and with his back against the wall, Stark must survive by his own devices first solely an anchor but he transitioned into building a team around himself.
Some questions he asks himself and we must ask ourselves are:
- Which characters compliment & support him?
- What kind of assists does he need?
What We Have Learned From Iron Man
At the end of the movie, he’s lost his house, given ownership of his business to his girlfriend and has blown up all of his million dollar Iron man suits to save his relationship. Tony is left with nothing but a trailer on the back of his expensive sports car which contains various fragments of what was formerly his workshop. Trust me, a lot of folks who have been laid off from a long time job can feel the same way.
But you know that, regardless of how little he is left with, how terrible his current plight may seem that, deep down, the passion he has for creativity and the faith he has in his own abilities to deliver the goods, he’ll be back on top in no time.
For me, that’s the big lesson to learn from Iron Man – however bad things get, however little you’re left with, as long as you’ve got belief in yourself you’ll be back on the road to success before you know it
Now we are back to how we began. What makes the difference in both personal and team performance? It is important to remember to compare the apples and apples.
Our three leadership topics we covered were:
- Taking risks and possibly making mistakes
- Building a sense of trust
- Working as a team
None of these require super powers. James Bond is not a super hero. Tony Stark is not a super hero. Iron Man is a Super Hero. Know the differences.
Now, how can we apply some of the talents of Tony Stark?
Get a partner. Just like doing an appendectomy, it is best to seek help from others. We can make the first cut, but after that...
Remember that not all hero’s wear capes! As he fights his way back, Stark discovers the answer to the question that has secretly haunted him: does the man make the suit or does the suit make the man?