Quotes And Leadership Lessons From Real Steel

A Reel Leadership Article

There’s something about feel-good movies that make you want to watch them again and again. Real Steel is one of those feel-good movies.

I’d watched Real Steel when the movie released in 2011. I remember loving the movie. Then I never watched it again until this weekend.

Movie still from the movie Reel Steel. Main characters with Atom walking toward ring

Man, I was missing out on such a feel-good movie. Real Steel lays on the heavy hits and heavy emotions throughout. It’s a must-see movie.

Not only will you see robots get knocked about. Not only will you get your emotions toyed with… You will walk away from Real Steel with a load of leadership lessons.

Today’s Reel Leadership article is going to focus on the leadership lessons in Real Steel. I hope you brought your boxing robot and notepad. You’re going to want both!

If you want to enjoy Real Steel again, you can purchase it on Amazon.

Quotes And Leadership Lessons From Real Steel

1. Be respectful to those you work with:

I’m starting with a heavy hitter. Real Steel packed in quite the talent.

The first thing I noticed, though, was the line-up of stars who had worked together or gone on to work together in future movies. The names I saw were:

  • Hugh Jackman (Charlie Kenton) was Wolverine
  • Evangeline Lilly (Bailey Tallet) was the Wasp
  • Anthony Mackie (Finn) was the Falcon
  • Dakota Goyo (Max Kenton) was young Thor in Thor.
  • Kevin Durand (Rickey) was in X-Men: Wolverine Origins
  • Hope Davis (Aunt Debra) was Maria Stark in Captain America: Civil War

Each of these actors/actresses starred in movies based on Marvel Comics characters.

Imagine if they hadn’t played nice with one another. Stars such as Mackie, Lilly, or Jackman could have put in a bad word and they’d be gone from the set.

You never know who you’re going to work with in the future. The people you work with today may become the next business owner you work for or a coworker.

Do your best to be respectful of those you work with. It’s so much easier to be respectful than a jerk.

2. Don’t be greedy:

Charlie had three young children walk up and star at his robot, Ambush. One of the young girls wanted a picture with the robot. Charlie put a kibosh on this.

He told the young girl there would be a fee. The fee was $5.

Do you know what the girl did? She rejected his fee. The children left. Charlie was left empty-handed.

We have to be careful of becoming greedy. The desire for more or better things can trap us.

This desire can have you asking for things you don’t deserve, shouldn’t have, or people shouldn’t be required to do.

Greed is a deadly leadership disease. Kill it.

3. Aunt Debra:

You’ve been working with those robots so long you’ve become one.

Charlie hadn’t seen his young son in years. He didn’t care to. When he had the opportunity to go to court and give up his rights, he was there.

Walking into the courtroom, the judge asked him if he would like to see Max. Debra had already said she wanted to. Charlie turned down the opportunity to see his son.

He’d given up his humanity by working so long with the non-living.

We can become like Charlie. We can choose to give up our humanity and become unkind, uncaring, unloving.

Leaders, we need to do better than this. We need to be human. We need to remember what it was like before we were given the title of leader.

That’s how we lead well.

4. Max Kenton:

You sold me?!?

Charlie made a deal with Debra’s husband Marvin (James Rebhorn). The deal? To give Max to Debra and Marvin… for the cool sum of $100,000.

Basically, Charlie sold his son.

Max found this out and was furious. He was upset. He was shocked. He wanted half the money.

I can’t blame the kid. It would have to be hard to find out your father sold you.


How many times do we do this to the people we lead? Whether it is selling the organization without any employee input, lowering of wages, etc…

We constantly sell our employees. We choose to treat them like they are pieces on a game board we need to move around to make the most money.

Let’s stop selling our people. They’re our greatest asset. Let’s start treating them as such.

5. Start small:

Charlie purchased a great fighting robot. The robot’s name was Noisy Boy. He was a funky looking Japanese robot that could do some damage.

What did Charlie do with Noisy Boy? He went straight for the biggest match he could find.

Max tried to talk his dad out of the big fight. Max wanted to take Noisy Boy to the undercard.

Unfortunately, Charlie’s desire to go big out of the gate got Noisy Boy destroyed.

Temper yourself. Start small.

Leaders don’t become great leaders overnight. They slowly build their leadership muscles. The slow exercising of your leadership muscles builds up the strength you need to lead later.

Don’t go for the main event card. Take on the undercard when you begin to lead.

Learn in less dangerous circumstances. You’ll find your footing and save yourself from much pain.

6. Max Kenton:

Do you even think about the stuff you do before you do it?

Max recognized Charlie was impulsive. Charlie did what he desired and that was that.

Max called Charlie out for his impulsiveness. He knew his dad couldn’t continue on the path he was going.

Leader: You can’t continue on the path of impulsiveness. You have to learn to control your emotions and desires.

By going full bore without thinking about your actions, you put yourself and your team in the danger zone.

Take a step back. Take a deep breath. Think about your next step.

7. Bailey Tallet:

You’re your problem, Charlie.

Bailey’s father owned the gym Charlie used to train at. She was also a love interest of Charlie’s.

She saw the perilous situations Charlie continued to put himself into. She called him out on his garbage.

Look at yourself. What’s been happening in your leadership? Have you been successful? Are you struggling?

If you’re struggling, I want to encourage you to take a deep look at yourself.

As Bailey said, you may be your own problem. You may be the one causing yourself all of the trouble.

This happens more often than we like to admit.

Look at yourself. Be honest. Determine if you are the real issue.

8. Finn:

As much as I like you, you’re a bad bet brother.

Charlie sought out Finn for a loan. He needed it to get a better robot and have a chance.

Finn liked Charlie. He really did.

However, Finn saw Charlie for what he was. Charlie was a bad bet.

You will have people you really like on your team. You will think they’re an amazing person. Yet, there’s something off with them.

You can tell they’re a bad bet.

They may not get the work done but have a fantastic personality. Or they may get the work done and they suck in the personality department.

Know what bets you’re willing to take with people.

9. Max Kenton:

Don’t yell at him. Control him.

Max had seen Charlie get frustrated with Atom. They had taken a fight against Kingpin’s (John Gatins) robot.

The fight took a nasty turn and Charlie began to yell at Atom. He wanted him to do exactly what he said.

The yelling didn’t help Atom’s situation. Max knew this. He encouraged his dad to stop yelling, start controlling.

Leaders, we have to stop yelling at our team. Our screams fall on deaf ears.

Instead of yelling, try communicating (controlling) with your team.

By using gentle language, you can get them to do what needs to be done by finding what motivates them.

Remember: Stop yelling. Start communicating.

10. Leaders see the future:

During Atom’s fight, Charlie would tell Max what was going to happen. Charlie could see the future.

Leaders are like Charlie. They can see the future.

Leaders look for the big picture. The big picture is the future that they can see coming to fruition.

Look for the future. See what is possible. Help your team see how to make this possible.

11. Max Kenton:

I wanted you to fight for me.

Charlie had given up his rights to his son, Max. Both of them knew this.

This caused a lot of angst between the pair.

However, there was one thing Max wanted more than anything. He wanted his father to fight for him.

Leadership can be like a parental relationship. You have the ability to lead, guide, and mold the team you lead. You also have the opportunity to fight for your team.

This is what your team wants from you. They want to know you have their back. That you are willing to go to bat for your team.

Fight for the team you have. Show them you care for them.

12. You know where to start:

Charlie and Bailey discussed Max. Charlie admitted he’d blown it with Max.

He knew by giving away his son, he shouldn’t have any right to want to see him. Yet he wanted his son in his life now.

Knowing this, Charlie claimed he didn’t know where to start. He did. He knew exactly where to start.

Many new leaders will claim they don’t know where to start. They do. YOU do.

Start by doing the small things. Choose to clean up where others aren’t. Choose to do the right thing even when it is hard.

By doing the small things right, you are starting down the path of leadership.

13. Give your team the credit:

Max had a desire to have Atom fight Tak Mashido’s (Karl Yune) robot, Zeus. He had called out Farra Lemkova (Olga Fonda), Tak’s partner, at a boxing bout they had won.

No one thought Atom had a chance to take on Zeus. Charlie got the call and the match was on.

Charlie went to tell Max that they had gotten the Zeus fight. As he was saying this, he changed it to “No, you got the fight.”

The credit went to Max.

Your team works hard. They bust their butts to get the job done. They sacrifice a lot.

When success happens, do you claim the success for yourself or do you give your team the credit?

It’s time to give credit where credit is due. Your team is the one doing the hard work. Give them the credit.

14. You can lose and still win:

The Zeus fight didn’t go the way they wanted. Though Atom lasted all 5 rounds, the judges gave the match to Zeus.

This may have been a defeat but it wasn’t. In the end, Atom won. He had become the People’s Champion.

You may see a failure or an issue pop up and think you’ve lost. You haven’t. You need to learn to continue to fight.

By pushing through the tough times, people will see the leadership grit you have. They will see you have spunk and spirit.

Keep fighting. You can still win.

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