Professors Gordon Schmidt and Sy Islam pull leadership lessons from popular Marvel films – one of the most profitable franchises in history – and apply them to organizational practices. They break down how characters like Iron Man and T’Challa lead their teams. The authors hold up these Marvel characters as exemplars of sound leadership, while also pointing out the blunders they make so that you never do the same. Readers who are unfamiliar with the Marvel Comics Universe (MCU) might find the authors’ teaching paradigm a bit less thrilling, but fans will have a good time.
- The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), one of history’s most successful film franchises, offers numerous leadership lessons.
- Select the right leaders and maintain a sturdy leadership pipeline.
- Under the “shared leadership” principle, the person designated to lead the team can change depending on the circumstances.
- “Leaders need mentors.”
- Leaders must handle conflict within their teams.
- Leaders’ actions during a crisis affect how their teams view the emergency.
- Show your authentic self.
- Constantly evaluate how to handle external situations that affect your team.
- The US workforce features as many women as men, but men occupy a disproportionate number of leadership roles.
- Servant leaders put their teams first and instill proper values in their team members.
- Recruit qualified people who are right for your team.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), one of history’s most successful film franchises, offers numerous leadership lessons.
Leadership is a recurring theme in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as heroes lead teams on adventures to conquer their foes. Characters, such as Iron Man and Black Panther, work as part of a team, as do the films’ directors, writers, actors and visual effect artists. Each individual contributes something vital to the final product.
“While most of us will never engage in fights with super villains, we all do have a chance to have a positive impact.”
In the business world, likewise, the outcome of any endeavor usually comes as a result of people working together. Leadership isn’t meant only for CEOs, bosses and managers; the mantle of leadership belongs to anyone who has an impact on others’ actions or mind-sets and shapes what they do. Every team member practices leadership at every step of his or her career.
Select the right leaders and maintain a sturdy leadership pipeline.
Leaders, even those like Thor and T’Challa, who were born to lead, must demonstrate their mettle before they can take command. Both Thor and T’Challa had to prove their leadership skills and discover their own leadership style before they could assume a high rank. Similarly, companies can administer employee assessment tests and run training programs to help pinpoint individuals with true leadership potential and lessen the risk that biases will play a role in the process of selecting a leader.
“The one with the mantle of Black Panther commands the armies of Wakanda. That is embedded in the position. Personal power has to do with the relationships that the individual has.”
Leaders have “position” power that comes with their job or rank and “personal” power they build through their connections with other people. They can have other kinds of power, too. “Referent power” stems from how much people like a leader. “Expertise power” comes from a leader’s unique or esoteric knowledge. Leaders with “Information Power” assume command when a specific circumstance requires what they know. Leaders who can bestow recognition or prizes have “reward power.” “Legitimate power” springs from the position a leader holds within the organization, such as General Okoye’s power over the Wakandan army. Use your “coercive” power sparingly, because leveraging this power means forcing others to do things they wouldn’t normally do. Improperly wielded, coercive power can lead to a toxic workplace and, possibly, a rebellion.The lack of a robust leadership pipeline can cause major snarls in an organization when things go awry. Develop a plan to find and promote the right leaders if succession becomes necessary.
Under the “shared leadership” principle, the person designated to lead the team can change depending on the circumstances.
At the start of Guardians of the Galaxy, most of the MCU members see themselves as individuals and regard teamwork as unnecessary. But they each come to realize they can’t achieve their goals alone. Make sure your team members regard themselves as part of a unit rather than as a mere collective of individuals assigned to work together.
“Teams must recognize one another as a cohesive unit, understand a shared goal and achieve a sense of who their members are.”
Using the “Hill model” of leadership, leaders decide if their teams will rely on task-focused behaviors or relationship-oriented behaviors. Task-oriented behaviors help people solve project-completion issues occurring outside the team. Relationship-oriented behaviors focus on the team itself and call upon members’ relationship-building and communication skills. For example, in Guardians of the Galaxy, Star Lord realizes the team is not functioning as a cohesive unit, so he focuses on relationship-based behaviors to help the team achieve its goal collectively.
Teams don’t need a designated leader if the members share leadership responsibilities and know their individual duties. The Guardians often share the leadership mantle, depending on the situation and on whose expertise the team needs at the moment. Teams without specified leaders must have unified goals, clear internal communication and strong “individual competencies.”
“Leaders need mentors.”
Organizations that offer mentorship programs are rewarded with happier employees, better job fulfillment and stronger employee devotion to the firm. For example, when Spider-Man, that is, Peter Parker, struggles with his superpowers, he turns to Tony Stark, Dr. Octavius and even alternate-dimension Spider-Men for mentorship. Mentors help their protégés’ career progression and offer emotional support in trying times. Not every mentor is the right fit for every protégé. You’re more likely to listen to and learn from mentors who reflect you back to yourself. Parker is likelier to listen to Stark, who is another scientist, than to his Uncle Ben, whom Parker regards as ignorant about the complex issues he faces daily.
Mentors and their protégés bear equal responsibility for making their relationship work; the mentor must want to teach, and the protégé must want to learn. Mentor and protégé pairs from similar backgrounds are more likely to succeed. In some companies, co-workers mentor their peers, such as when Spider-Gwen becomes Miles’ mentor in Into the Spider-verse. Group mentoring is a variant in which several peers work together.
Leaders must handle conflict within their teams.
Two types of conflict may arise within a team structure: “task conflict” and “relationship conflict.” Task conflict occurs when team members disagree on what they should do. This healthy kind of conflict leads to creative solutions. Relationship conflict occurs when teammates don’t get along due to clashes in their personal values or habits. For instance, in Captain America: Civil War, Captain America and Iron Man have a argue about what direction The Avengers should take. This is a task-oriented disagreement, but when it turns into a relationship-based conflict due to the two heroes’ opposing values, the group splinters.In the real world, you can use five strategies to help mitigate conflict:
- “Forcing approach” – The leader uses power to implement his or her will, though this can generate animosity within the group.
- “Avoiding approach” – The leader delays a decision in the hope that some other person or event will force a choice.
- “Accommodating approach” – The leader lets the other person do things his or her way. This seems collegial, but it shows a lack of decisiveness.
- “Compromising approach” – Participants each get a little of what they want, and everyone gives a little as well. This approach can leave everyone dissatisfied.
- “Collaborative approach” – People talk through their conflict to reach a creative, amicable solution.
Leaders’ actions during a crisis affect how their teams view the emergency.
Everyone reacts to stress and stressors differently. People also define stressful situations differently. To stay aware of your reactions, be alert to four types of stressors. Time stressors come from feeling that you’re running out of time to complete your goals. Encounter stressors come from difficult interactions with others. Situational stresses spring from your environment – particularly when it changes. Anticipator stressors derive from worrying about something in the future.
To guide your team through stressful events, tap into three management approaches. “Reactive strategies” work in situations that you must address immediately. For example, when stressors hit, Banner tries to find a safe place to transform into the giant-sized Hulk – or, in his words, to “Hulk out” – where he won’t injure anyone. However, this temporary reactive strategy doesn’t prevent him from becoming the Hulk.
Use “proactive strategies,” such a time management app or yoga, to help you deal with general stress. For example, Banner wears a heart rate monitor to tell him when he’s getting stressed. “Inactive strategies” call for removing the stressor, such avoiding a long, tense commute by moving closer to your office. To remove the stress of constantly worrying that he’ll transform into the Hulk, Banner learns to accept the Hulk as part of himself
“Stress…seemed to lead to damage in the relationship between leaders and followers.”
The stress in Marvel’s Thanos storyline was so intense it pushed Iron Man and Thor to abandon their posts as Avengers. However, a proper leader must be ready to handle a crisis. A leader’s attitude and actions during a crisis can affect the team, for good or ill. To defuse stress, communicate clearly, support mentorship and stand by your subordinates.
Show your authentic self.
Being self-aware and cognizant of your weaknesses can help you understand yourself and improve accordingly. Stark was a flawed individual, but he knew who he was, and he presented that genuine person to the world. Showing your vulnerabilities to those you trust helps you build strong, lasting relationships.
“Being authentic can help us to feel better and do better in our jobs.”
Often people present a behavioral facade, showing the personality they think others would like to see. As much as Stark resists it, he knows in his heart that he belongs on the front lines of the Avengers’ battles – and, in the end, he sacrifices himself for the cause and his team. Authentic, caring leaders inspire their followers to emulate their behavior, leading to an “environment for self-development.” To accomplish this, leaders must set an example, show concern for their team members and help others express their authenticity.
Constantly evaluate the best way to handle external situations that affect your team.
The world around you has an impact on your team, and you must learn to deal with it. In Black Panther, the fictitious country of Wakanda remained isolated until the outside world intruded. Its leader, T’Challa, had to deal with this unwanted and potentially disastrous intrusion.
“By understanding the external environment, the needs of your team/organization, and how best to leverage relationships, you can learn to lead your team into a new world.”
Leaders must understand how outside forces affect their team members and how the outside world perceives their team. Your team constantly interacts with other teams, and their behavior reflects your leadership. To remain strong, leaders need to socialize and form bonds with outside teams. When Wakanda is under threat, T’Challa wisely reaches out to other tribes to help defend her land.
The US workforce features as many women as men, but men occupy a disproportionate number of leadership roles.
People who apply stereotypical judgments to women leaders believe they lack supposedly male leadership traits such as confidence, forcefulness and persuasiveness. Yet, they also disparage a woman if she displays these so-called masculine traits. When a crisis occurs or an organization is on the brink of collapse, companies often bring in female leaders to “shake things up.” If that leader can’t keep the company from failing, people blame her for whatever goes wrong – even if it is unavoidable or due to previous leaders’ decisions.
“When people get to experience working with female leaders, the idea of a female leader becomes more real and acceptable.”
In the MCU, Captain America and Iron Man retreat after the Thanos “snap.” Black Widow takes command during this tumultuous five-year span, only to be removed from leadership when the men return. Instead of discouraging or displacing qualified women, companies should put them in leadership positions where they have the chance to succeed and to serve as positive examples for upcoming leaders.
Servant leaders put their teams first and instill proper values in their team members.
Servant leaders behave morally, put their team before themselves, build others up and instill their organization’s values in their team members. Servant leaders understand that leadership doesn’t mean making staff members bend to your will. Instead, they focus on their people and help them grow.
“Out of all the Avengers, Steve Rogers represents the hero who most often follows what he believes to be right. His code of ethics means that he makes choices that are guided by his principles.”
In the MCU universe, Captain America exemplifies authentic servant leadership. Servant leaders never see themselves as being above their subordinates. They exemplify 10 traits: willingness to listen, empathy, healing, awareness, persuasion, foresight, conceptualization, stewardship, commitment to people’s growth and a desire to build community.
Recruit qualified people who are right for your team.
To draw the kind of people you want on your team or in your workforce, rely on the “attraction, selection, attrition” model. Seek prospects who reflect your organization’s values and discuss those values with them during the interview process.
“Professor X is more likely to talk about the values of learning to control one’s powers and working to help humanity. ”
Selection is a process of finding the perfect candidates after you attract sufficient candidates. To narrow your choices, use meta-analysis, drawing on work samples, tests and structured interviews. For example, the Avengers and the X-Men put their candidates through rigorous tests before officially accepting them. Since turnover and attrition can wear down your team, pay attention to why people leave and realize that controlling turnover helps build the team’s overall strength. Realize that your candidates are also interviewing you, and they can turn down your job offer if your organization doesn’t support their values.
About the Author
Gordon B. Schmidt, PhD is a teacher and management researcher at the University of Louisiana Monroe. Sy Islam, who co-founded Consulting with Talent Metrics, teaches Industrial Organizational Psychology at Farmingdale State College in New York.
In “Leaders Assemble! Leadership in the MCU： Exploring Effective Leadership Practices Through Popular Culture,” authors Gordon B. Schmidt and Sy Islam embark on a unique endeavor to explore effective leadership practices through the lens of popular culture, specifically the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). This book review aims to provide a comprehensive analysis of the authors’ efforts and the value their work offers to readers.
Overview of the Book:
The book is divided into five sections that explore key leadership domains demonstrated by MCU characters like Captain America, Iron Man, Black Widow, and others. Each chapter uses examples from the films to highlight relevant leadership concepts.
The first section focuses on building high-performance teams. It examines how the Avengers overcome ego and adversity to work collaboratively. Readers learn that psychological safety, clear communication, diverse perspectives and trusting relationships are vital for any team to achieve extraordinary results.
The second section analyzes adaptive leadership. It shows how heroes adjust their approaches based on constantly changing environments and emerging challenges. Adaptability, flexibility and empowering followers to solve problems independently are leadership qualities that allow for innovation.
The third section delves into visionary leadership. It profiles characters who inspire others through compelling visions of a better future. The importance of translating broad ideals into concrete goals that mobilize action is stressed. Selling the vision in a way that gives meaning and purpose to others’ work is also discussed.
The fourth section explores empowering leadership. It offers lessons on decentralized decision-making, coaching to help develop others’ leadership potential, and highlighting diversity of thought. Readers are encouraged to cultivate empowered followership rather than micromanage.
The fifth and final section addresses ethical leadership. Parallels are drawn between superheroes’ unwavering commitment to justice, integrity and service above self-interest. Upholding high moral standards and leading courageously through complexity and adversity are underscored.
- Unique approach: By leveraging the popularity of the MCU, Schmidt and Islam successfully create a compelling framework for understanding leadership principles. This approach is both engaging and accessible, making it an excellent choice for readers unfamiliar with traditional leadership theories.
- Thorough analysis: The book provides a detailed analysis of the leadership qualities and strategies employed by various MCU characters. Each chapter is dedicated to a specific character, allowing readers to gain a deep understanding of their leadership styles and the challenges they face.
- Relevant examples: The authors cleverly use examples from the MCU to illustrate key leadership concepts, such as the importance of vision, emotional intelligence, and adaptability. This makes the book relatable and practical, as readers can directly apply the principles to their own experiences.
- Insights into contemporary leadership issues: The book touches on several contemporary leadership issues, including diversity, inclusivity, and ethics. By examining these issues through the lens of the MCU, Schmidt and Islam offer valuable insights that can be applied in real-world leadership contexts.
- Lack of depth in some areas: While the book provides a comprehensive analysis of leadership in the MCU, some chapters could benefit from more in-depth exploration of certain concepts. For example, the chapters on Black Panther and Captain Marvel are somewhat superficial, lacking the depth of analysis found in other chapters.
- Limited scope: As the book focuses solely on the MCU, readers unfamiliar with the franchise may find it challenging to appreciate the full extent of the leadership insights provided. However, this limitation is mitigated by the authors’ clear explanations of the franchise’s background and significance.
- Some chapters feel disconnected: At times, the chapters seem disjointed, as they jump between different characters and storylines without a clear connection. This can make it challenging for readers to follow the authors’ arguments and fully appreciate the leadership lessons being conveyed.
Insights and takeaways:
- Effective leadership is diverse and inclusive: The book highlights the importance of diverse leadership perspectives and inclusive decision-making. By examining the leadership styles of characters from different backgrounds, such as Black Panther and Captain Marvel, readers gain a deeper appreciation of the value of diversity in leadership.
- Leadership is about more than just decision-making: The authors emphasize the importance of emotional intelligence, adaptability, and empathy in leadership. This challenges the traditional view of leadership as solely focused on decision-making and highlights the need for leaders to be well-rounded and empathetic.
- Leadership is a complex and evolving process: The book demonstrates that leadership is a dynamic and multifaceted concept, constantly evolving in response to changing contexts and challenges. This underscores the importance of ongoing learning and self-reflection for effective leadership.
The book is ideal for individuals interested in leadership development, management, and organizational behavior. It is particularly suitable for those who enjoy popular culture and are fans of the MCU, as the book’s unique approach makes the content more engaging and accessible. The book can also serve as a useful resource for educators and trainers looking to incorporate popular culture into their leadership courses or workshops.
In conclusion, “Leaders Assemble! Leadership in the MCU” is a well-written, engaging, and practical guide to effective leadership. The book’s unique approach to leadership development, using the MCU as a case study, makes it a standout in the leadership literature. The authors’ expertise in leadership and their passion for the MCU shine through on every page, making this book an invaluable resource for anyone looking to improve their leadership skills. I highly recommend “Leaders Assemble! Leadership in the MCU” to anyone looking to become a more effective leader and to fans of the MCU looking to deepen their understanding of the leadership principles that drive their favorite heroes.
I highly recommend “Leaders Assemble!” to anyone interested in leadership development, management, or popular culture. The book’s engaging approach and practical advice make it an excellent resource for both personal and professional development. If you’re a fan of the MCU or looking for a unique perspective on leadership practices, this book is a must-read.