4 Key Leadership Lessons From ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’

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There is no doubt that Spider-Man is one of the most relatable superheroes out there. He is not only one of the most likable characters of the Marvel Universe but also an inspiration to thousands across the world. Before Peter Parker was bitten by that radioactive spider, he was just another boy trying to get through high school. Not only did he have to deal with the mysterious death of his parents, but he was also bullied at school for being geeky, skinny and socially awkward.

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However, after Peter got his superpowers, he had to continue dealing with typical teenage struggles while also understanding the magnitude of his new capabilities, making life all the more difficult. As Peter grows as an individual, he starts contemplating how he can become part of the Avengers which would provide him with a wider platform to help people and use his powers to their full potential. However, after a couple of monumental mishaps using his new superhero suit, it was clear that he was not mature enough yet to handle certain types of responsibilities. This leads Tony Stark, Peter’s mentor, to take away his suit while giving him a short but very fitting reprimand. At that moment, Peter realizes he needed to make some important changes in order to rise up and be worthy of taking on the mantel of a superhero. Not only is this action-packed movie entertaining and thrilling, but it also has a powerful narrative of personal growth, leadership development and teamwork. This is exactly why I have created a list of four leadership lessons everyone can take home from “Spider-Man: Homecoming” (spoiler alert: movie plot revealed).

1.      A true leader does not need everything in their arsenal.

This movie’s main teachable moment is when Tony Stark takes away the Spider-Man suit from Peter. In “Homecoming,” the Spidey outfit is like no other we had seen before. In the Avengers tradition and with the introduction of super high-tech in the Marvel Universe, the new arachnid tights are more of a stretchy Iron-Man suit with a Spidey look. It has everything from GPS to voice activation to immediate-kill mode to a multi-web shooter menu. With it, Peter felt better protected and more powerful. So much so that when stripped of it, he could not help but say, “I am nothing without the suit.” This low point for Peter becomes the movie’s main dramatic moment as it is when Tony Stark delivers the script’s golden line, “If you are nothing without the suit then you shouldn’t have it.” This speech triggers Peter’s redemption journey as he rediscovers his identity, his convictions and his true powers without high-tech enhancements. Peter could have easily given up and gone down a different route of frustration and self-destruction. Rather, he stays vigilant to his cause and, even without the suit, he continues on his quest to do what he thinks is right.  In this way, Peter shows us that even if we do not have all the tools and skills in our arsenal, we can still bring out the best in us, do what is right and inspire those around us.

2.     Stereotypical villains may hide leadership qualities worth shedding a light on.

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Even the villain in the movie displayed leadership qualities worth exploring. The Vulture, played by Michael Keaton, is a hardworking entrepreneur who, above all things, wants to protect and provide for his family. When sidelined and arbitrarily left out of a contract by the U.S. Government, he is left on the brink of bankruptcy, which forces him to look for ways to recover his money. Of course, being the movie’s villain, he lacks the moral compass to make his survival efforts feasible in a civilized society of law-abiding citizens. Hence, he decides to steal government-confiscated alien technology and sell it in the black market to the highest bidder. Putting aside for a moment the Vulture’s clear violation of the law, the love for his family and his ability to take initiative do give us a glimpse of the kind of leader he would become should he have a different set of principles.

3.     Leading by example is still the crown jewel of leadership.

Another prominent role in this movie was played by Robert Downey Jr, who once again incarnates the billionaire playboy genius Tony Stark and puts on the Iron-Man suit. Tony discovers Peter’s powers and instead of leaving him to his own devices, he takes the web-slinger teenager under his wing to help him become a true superhero. Even though Tony had been previously depicted as the most carefree of Marvel’s icons, in this reboot he portrays a wise leader who knows the value of leading by example and trusting his apprentice. Tony, in order to make sure Peter had someone to look up, becomes his personal mentor and bestows upon him important pearls of wisdom that guide Peter’s evolution. Just as important, Tony gives Peter a second chance after the latter’s first major screw-up when trying on the new suit. With this, Tony exemplifies an important exercise in trust that would later fuel Peter’s self-confidence, first backfiring badly and then guiding his redemption. In general, the whole film depicts a paternal Iron Man who has matured as a leader and shows Peter the real meaning of responsibility.

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4.    The best fit on paper is sometimes not the best fit for the role.

When it comes to depicting a leader, many people describe a perfect individual who has all the qualifications and skills needed to do a flawless job and none of the weaknesses and contradictions of actual human beings. While successful leaders do have to display talents and convictions that make them worthy of higher responsibilities, they are still human. They still have individual personalities with blind spots and weaknesses, which they must face and overcome as they learn important lessons on the job. Spider-Man is a good example of this “non-perfection” of actual leaders.  Peter Parker is a fifteen-year-old high-school geek struggling to deal with his bullies and attract the attention of the girl he likes. Thinking of him as a leader or superhero might be a stretch for many people. Yet he became one. Putting his superpowers aside, it was his honesty, mindset and dedication that allowed him to redefine himself and become the man he aspired to be—well, the superhero he aspired to be.  In a way, this movie tells us that while everyone might not be a leader, it makes sense to give everyone a chance and see how they use it.

What do you think? Has Spidey taught you anything about leadership? Do you use science fiction and superhero stories to illustrate key leadership principles and lessons to your team? In general, fictional stories are a great way to portray classic roles and personality stereotypes to illustrate real-life situations in business, at work and at home. They allow for powerful imagery with solid content to be shared with your team without having to use actual names and situations. If you haven’t tried it yet, do it. You will see how your teammates start to realize how real-life names and situations fit into the different fictional stories you use to illustrate leadership principles and challenges, making the learning process fun, more easy-going and very effective.

This post was originally published on Forbes.com.


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