Tony Stark, played by the incredible Robert Downey, Jr, has become one of my all-time favorite movie characters.  Iron Man 3, the latest of the Marvel series, is opening this weekend to record box office numbers and the movie is excellent.

The following are 21 leadership quotes and lessons from the movie.  Be careful, the movie contains several twists and some spoilers may be leaked out in the applications below.

  1. The Power Of Anxiety – Despite all his wealth, intellect, and prestige, the condition of anxiety was debilitating for Stark throughout the film.  I suspect it is for many leaders as well.
  2. “We create our own demons.” – The reality is that sometimes Christians give the devil far too much credit.  Sometimes we are the ones at fault.
  3. The Value Of All Relationships – In the movie’s timeline, Stark mishandled two relationships over a decade before.  I once had a supervisor who told me, “Brian, be careful whose toes you step on.  They may one day be connected to the butt you have to kiss.”
  4. “Some call me a terrorist.  I consider myself a teacher.” – Sometimes leaders can justify even the worst of their behavior.
  5. “Failure is the fog through which we glimpse progress.” – The greatest leaders have learned to effectively leverage failure and disappointment.
  6. “I have to protect the one thing I can’t live without.” – Spoken by Stark to Pepper Potts, played by Gwyneth Paltrow, this quote reminds us that the top priority for leaders should be their families.
  7. “The suits are part of you.  They are a distraction.” – Leaders, particularly men, bury themselves in their work at the expense of dealing with their issues.
  8. “Fortune cookies are hollow and leave a bad taste in your mouth.” – Have you ever met any inauthentic, fake leaders?  Of course you have.  They leave a bad taste in your mouth.
  9. “You just died and I’m going to get the body.” – The difference between anger and danger is a “D”.  Stark’s temper put himself and others in harm’s way.
  10. “I just took a poncho from a wooden Indian.” – There is a moment when all leaders hit rock bottom.  What is yours?
  11. The Loss Of Integrity – I don’t understand Hollywood.  During Stark’s time in Tennessee, there were two cuss words and a needless bikini contest.  Why?  Integrity takes a lifetime to earn but can be lost at a moment in time.
  12. The rocket performed perfectly.  It just landed on the wrong planet.” – I have seen many leaders start with good intentions but gradually, over time, lose their moral compass and sense of direction.
  13. “The second mouse gets the cheese.” – Discretion is often the better part of valor.  Sometimes leaders should let others go first.
  14. “The greatest gift anyone gave me was desperation.” – Desperation shifts priorities, changes behavior, and forces leaders to take corrective action.
  15. “The second you give evil a face you give them a target.”  – Leaders identify targets, sometimes incorrectly.
  16. The Exponential Power Of Teamwork – As gifted as Iron Man is, there is only so much he could accomplish in his own strength.  Whether it was rescuing passengers falling from the sky after an attack on Air Force One or fighting weaponized soldiers in the climatic final scenes, Stark needed assistance to accomplish his task.
  17. “That’s what I do.  I fix stuff.”– Leaders know and play to their strengths.
  18. “You start something pure.  Then the mistakes, the compromises.  We create our own demons.” – Often a person’s talent will take them where their character cannot sustain them.
  19. “My armor was never a hobby, a distraction.  It was a cocoon.”
  20. Trust – Leaders should always be careful who they allow into their inner-circle. Stark had a great inner-circle.  The President did not.
  21. Continual Improvement – Now in his fourth installment of the Marvel series, Stark has developed combat skills.  In addition, Potts has begun to morph into a superhero herself.  Leaders are always evolving and improving their skills and abilities.  In the words of Nick Saban, “there is no continuum of success.”

I’m interested in your thoughts.  What additional leadership principles did you glean after watching the movie?

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