Leadership Lessons part 1: Batman is arguably the greatest super-hero for one reason – he’s just a man. He’s not from another planet and he wasn’t bitten by a radioactive spider. What makes the ‘Dark Knight’ a super-hero are his human characteristics.
Like any good leader, Batman inspires us by his commitment and vision.
Whether you are a DC Comics fan or watched Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Movie trilogy, you will know that Batman fights injustice with a genius like intellect, intuitive detective skills, strategy, and peak physical conditioning.
Comic book or screen super-heroes are part of our modern mythology; they can be used to help us find our place in the world, make sense of it, and manage our inner dialogue. What makes Batman so interesting as a role-model for leadership characteristics is his persona is formed through adversity, and he uses his own fear and anger to focus his on his mission.
So what can a real flesh and blood leader learn from the caped crusader?
1. Be a Symbol
“People need dramatic examples to shake them out of apathy and I can’t do that as Bruce Wayne. As a man, I’m flesh and blood, I can be ignored, I can be destroyed; but as a symbol… as a symbol I can be incorruptible, I can be everlasting” – Bruce Wayne, Batman Begins 2005.
Leaders, consciously or unconsciously create a symbol that represent more than themselves. People will follow a symbol or an ideal, just as soldiers would follow a flag into battle. A symbol can become a brand, just as Job’s created with Apple or Anita Roddick created with Body Shop.
What is it you stand for that goes beyond your own mortality?
2. Create a Signal
The Bat-Signal is modified searchlight that projects a large Bat emblem on the sky or buildings. The light is used by police as a method of contacting and summoning Batman and as a weapon of psychological intimidation to the numerous villains of Gotham City.
In a leadership or business context, a signal is a “call to action” that focuses the minds and heart of followers. A signal needs to be simple and memorable. Microsoft founders, Bill Gates and Paul Allen, famously set a target, “A computer on every desk and in every home”. This was a signal that Microsoft was going to take over the world of computers, and they very nearly achieved their dream.
Nike’s tagline of “Just do it”, is a signal as much as “Mobile Ready” is a call to action for business to catch up with consumer’s usage patterns.
What is your signal or call to action for your team?
3. Failure is not Permanent
“And why do we fall, Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves up”, is the message given to the young Bruce Wayne by his father, after the fateful fall into the bat inhabited well.
Batman is no stranger to failure; he has his back broken by the steroid-enhanced villain, Baine. This defeat, whilst initially devastating, does not destroy Batman’s spirit or take him off mission.
Steve Jobs, was devastated when he was fired from Apple in 1985, but went on to found NeXT, acquired the computer graphics division of Lucasfilm, which he spun off as Pixar.
Amazon was labelled amazon.bomb but Jeff Bezos saw it through the dot.com crash. In fact, “have backbone, disagree and commit” are part of Amazon’s 14 leadership principles – sounds like a signal to me.
Have you failed at something? Are you allowing that to define your, or is it making you stronger?
4. Have a Code of Honor
Leadership lessons research repeatedly suggests that ethics and honesty are characteristics that we look for in a leader. Batman has a code of honor, and although we see him struggle with it, we know he will ultimately do the right thing. We see Batman struggle with two question; how far will he go to protect the innocent? And will he lose his humanity along the way?
Leadership is not easy, the leader must often make difficult and unpopular choices, however without values or a vision these choices become meaningless.
What is it you believe? Are you worthy of your people’s trust?
There is so much material that I think that too will need to write a trilogy of articles.
Be sure to check out my other posts – such as 4 reasons Leaders are Like Wolverine.