Quotes And Leadership Lessons From Iron Man

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Today, we’re going back to what started everything for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The 2008 film, Iron Man, started Phase One of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. From there, the universe expanded to 23 movies ranging from the Guardians Of The Galaxy, The Avengers, Ant-Man, and Spider-Man.

The Universe has coalesced into something amazing. It is every Marvel fanboy’s dream come true.

I think it is also every good movie lover’s dream come true.

Robert Downey Junior as Iron Man in Iron Man 1

Seeing the birth of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is breathtaking, even if it is a bit dated. Iron Man starts the Universe and weaves threads that would lead to future initiatives.

Today, we’re going to look at the leadership lessons in Iron Man. Suit up; it’s going to be a ride!

Quotes And Leadership Lessons From Iron Man

1. We don’t understand how our inventions will be used:

Tony Stark (Robert Downey Junior) was the head of Stark Industries. They were an organization that designed weapons of war.

Missles. Guns. Planes. You name it, if it could kill people, they made it.

As Tony Stark was being transported in a military convoy, the convoy was attacked. The soldiers transporting him were killed.

He stepped out of the vehicle. A missile landed beside him. He looked at the missile. It bore a familiar logo. The Stark Industries logo.

Tony didn’t realize or understand where his weapons were going. They weren’t going to the good guys.

We can be oblivious, like Tony, as to what our inventions and creations are used for. We may have an inkling of understanding but we don’t fully grasp how they’re going to be used.

We need to better grasp what our inventions and creations are going to be used for. This helps us understand who’s being helped and who’s being harmed by them.

Understanding this may change your opinion of what you’re working toward.

2. Who will step in for you?:

Tony had won an award that was being presented at Caesar’s Palace. Tony was off gambling while the awards were being presented. He was a no-show when his name was called.

Colonel James Rupert “Rhodey” Rhodes (Terrence Howard) was the man presenting the award. After he called Tony’s name, Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) went to accept the award in his place.

Later in Iron Man, we discover Stane is a bad guy. He’s willing to overstep boundaries and go against Tony’s wishes.

When we fail to show up, someone else has to step in to fill our shoes. Who will this person be?

We have to know who’s on our team and what they’re doing.

In moments, they could step in and speak for you. What they speak may not be what you would want.

3. Great leaders make you feel something:

There was a scene in Iron Man that made me squirm. It made lots of people squirm.

Tony’s convoy had been attacked. He had been transported to the Ten Rings base of operations. There, he had been treated for his chest wound.

Tony woke up. He discovered he had a tube down his nose. He began to pull the tube up and out.


This scene made me feel something. It brought me into Tony’s world and I can’t forget what I saw or felt.

Leaders! We have to be able to make people feel something.

Does your vision make people feel the passion behind it? Is your mission something people want to latch onto? Do your customers feel something toward your organization?

Let’s work on making the people we lead and serve feel something.

4. Bad leaders lie:

Tony was introduced to one of the members of the Ten Rings terrorist organization. In a brief conversation, the terrorist told Tony he would set Tony free if Tony would help them obtain the Jericho missile.

Was the terrorist telling the truth? No, he wasn’t. Tony knew this and decided to take action. He would find a way to get himself and his fellow prisoner, Yinsen (Shaun Toub), out of their clutches.

Bad leaders are like this terrorist leader. They will tell their people what they believe they want to hear. In reality, they’re manipulating their team.

Deception never works. We see this in what happens in Iron Man. He pretends to go along with the orders but actually worked on something that would help him escape.

Do your best to tell the truth. It is the best course of action.

5. Yinsen:

So you’re a man who has everything and nothing?

Yinsen questioned Tony about his wealth and life. He discovered Tony had all the money and fame one could hope for. However, Tony was missing something.

Great relationships

This stung Tony as he began to realize what his life was about. It was missing some of the most important things a man could ever want.

We don’t want to be like Tony in this regard. We don’t want to work our lives away to gain money and lose those close to us.

Our relationships are important. We have to find the time to invest in them.

6. Our first attempts are normally not our best:

Tony created a rudimentary Iron Man suit to escape from the Ten Rings. The suit was bulky, clunky, and unpolished.

The Mark I suit served its purpose. It allowed Tony to escape.

As Iron Man progressed, we see Tony refining the design of the Iron Man suit. It went through multiple iterations until he reached the Iron Man Mark III suit (he would further evolve the suits in later Iron Man movies).

The Iron Man suit continually got better. The more Tony learned, the better things became.

You’re going to be disappointed in a lot of things. One of those will be your first attempts. These first attempts are going to be far from perfect.

However, if we learned anything from Tony Stark, it is that the first attempt doesn’t have to be your last. You can continually improve upon processes, inventions, and organizational efficiency.

7. Yinsen:

Don’t waste it… don’t waste your life, Stark.

Yinsen knew Tony needed more time to get the Iron Man suit operational. As the Ten Rings terrorists began to break into the lab where the suit was being built, Yinsen picked up a weapon. He gave Tony the time to get the suit up and running.

Sadly, Yinsen died. But not before he gave Tony one final message.

Yinsen wanted Tony to know that he didn’t have to waste his life. He let Tony know this.

What are you wasting your life on? Is it the pursuit of riches? Is it the pursuit of the hustle?

Whatever you’re spending your time on, make sure you’re not wasting your life.

8. Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow):

I don’t think I’m qualified to do this.

Tony needed to replace the Arc Reactor in his chest. This required removing the old device, disconnecting the wires, and connecting the new Arc Reactor.

Pepper Potts walked in at just the right time. Tony was at the point where he needed the wires connected. Pepper’s hands would do the trick.

Tony asked her to pull the wire out in his chest and connect it to the new Arc Reactor. He told her it would be like playing the game Operation.

Pepper was hesitant. She wasn’t a doctor. She had never done anything like this.

Tony encouraged her. He let her know he had faith she could help him.

As we start in leadership, we feel a lot like Pepper Potts. We see the big tasks before us and we freeze. We begin to tell ourselves that we cannot do this. We’re not qualified to do this.

We need to step up and into these situations. When you feel you’re not qualified enough, find a way to become qualified enough. Work through it, find a mentor, just do it.

9. Tony Stark:

Sometimes you’ve got to run before you can walk.

Tony Stark kept refining the Iron Man suit. One of the issues he had was with flight. He couldn’t get the suit to stabilize.

He made a drastic choice. He would take the suit outside and fly it.

His virtual assistant, JARVIS (Paul Bettany), was concerned. However, Tony overrode the concern and took the suit for a flight outside.

The flight succeeded.

We cannot stay trapped in our fear. We cannot not test the boundaries of what we can do because we haven’t mastered a step in the process.

There will be times when we have to run before we can walk in leadership. It reminds me of the phrase: ready, fire, aim.

Take the risk, refine, keep improving.

10. Pepper Potts:

You don’t understand because you’re you.

Tony invited Pepper to dance with him at a gala. Pepper was hesitant. She was concerned about how people would view this.

She was right to be concerned.

Tony was a womanizer. He tried to sleep with every woman he could. Pepper was an attractive employee of his. People would talk.

Tony didn’t realize what the problem with this was. Tony’s position gave him immunity to the criticisms. Pepper’s position invited criticism and scorn.

We are at a different level than those we lead. This isn’t a bad thing. It isn’t a good thing, either.

We lose sight of how our actions are viewed in contrast to the way the actions of those we lead are viewed. We forget what it is like to be judged more harshly. Leadership takes us away from this level of responsibility.

Let’s work on thinking about those we lead and how they are viewed.

11. Tony Stark:

I just know what I have to do.

Tony received word that Stark Industries was once again selling weapons to arms dealers. Stane and Stark Industries went against his wishes.

What did Tony do? He suited up and began to fight against what was wrong.

This made Pepper Potts quit. She didn’t want to see Tony die. She cared too much for him.

This didn’t stop Tony. He knew what he had to do.

There comes a time when we have to make a choice. The choice is whether or not to do what is right.

Tony chose to do what he had to do. Will you choose to do what you have to do when the time comes?

12. Tony Stark:

I am Iron Man.

After everything that happened in the Iron Man movie, Tony Stark gave a press conference.

He had a prepared speech. All he had to do was read the statement and he would be done.

He went off-script. He did something bold. He shared who he was.

Do you know who you are? Do you know why you’re leading?

To be an effective leader, you have to know who you are. This centers you. This grounds you. It helps bring you back when you get lost.

Figure out who you are. Stand by it.

13. Know what you’re building toward:

There was a stinger in Iron Man. It was a scene where Tony Stark meets Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson).

Fury shares with Tony that the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division (S.H.I.E.L.D.) was building something bigger. He was working on launching the Avengers Initiative.

This laid the groundwork for the 22 additional films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Do you know what you’re building toward? What is your endgame?

Knowing what you want to accomplish as a leader will help you do what needs to be done to get there. Without knowing your goal, you will wander without ever seeing the fruits.

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