Quotes And Leadership Lessons From The Dark Knight

A Reel Leadership Article

The Dark Knight is the second of three movies in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. The Dark Knight induces a new menace to Christopher Nolan’s Batman universe. Heath Ledger’s Joker emerges and begins to wreak havoc upon the citizens of Gotham City. Gotham City’s protector, Batman (Christian Bale) must rise to the occasion and deal with this new threat.

I remember first watching The Dark Knight. It was at a drive-in. After leaving the movie, I couldn’t understand why everyone loved this movie. I still don’t but after watching it this weekend, my opinion of the movie changed. The Dark Knight is much better than I remember it being.

Christian Bale as Batman and Heath Ledger as the Joker in The Dark Knight

Batman/Bruce Wayne has to navigate the difficulties arising from the Joker’s entrance to Gotham. Along with this challenge, there is a relationship challenge. He is vying to regain the love of Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal) while she is fawning over District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart).

All of this makes for a good Batman movie. It also is a great wealth of leadership ideas.

Quotes And Leadership Lessons From The Dark Knight

1. A bad leader turns his people against one another:

The Joker had his gang rob a bank. He had promised to split the haul between everyone involved in the robbery. However, he also gave each robber a secret mission.

The mission was to kill the other robber. One at a time, they each took one another out. They were ruthless and cutthroat. It was a bloodbath of mistrust.

It all ended with the Joker revealing himself to be one of the clown robbers and offing the last remaining clown.

Ugh, that sounds like a horrible leader, huh? Yet, I’ve seen leaders do this to their teams. They create an environment where everyone is against one another.

We do this through inappropriate sales contests, removing the lowest-performing team members, etc… We turn our own team against one another. That is asinine!

Let’s stop this self-implosion. Let’s work on finding ways to build our teams rather than tear them down.

2. Leaders must know their priorities:

Lieutenant Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) and Detective Ramirez (Monique Gabriela Curnen) were at the Batsignal. Gordon turned on the light and waited for Batman to arrive. Batman did not arrive.

Ramirez and Gordon talk about it. Gordon said Batman doesn’t always show up. Batman normally has a reason not to… He’s busy. This is Gordon’s hope for this night.

Batman knew his priorities. He didn’t have to drop everything when the Batsignal lit up. He had to deal with the urgent and important before dealing with anyone calling him.

We can learn from Batman. We don’t have to drop everything to rush in when someone calls us. We can finish an important meeting. We can deal with what we had been.

Know your priorities. Make sure you’re not jumping to take care of problems that aren’t a big deal.

3. Great leaders inspire others to become leaders:

We discover Batman’s actions have inspired others to take up the cape and cowl. There are fake Batmen running around Gotham trying to take down criminals.

Batman didn’t only try to clean up Gotham. He inspired others to join in, though that wasn’t his intent.

Great leaders do the same. They inspire their team members to take action and begin acting like leaders.

Their team members see something, they do something. They also are willing to grow. They’re not willing to stay stagnant.

Be a leader who inspires growth and action and eventually new leaders.

4. Lieutenant James Gordon:

One man or the entire mob. He can wait.

Gordon made a call to go after the mob rather than the Joker. He thought he was making the right choice. He, obviously, made the wrong choice in not dealing with the Joker.

Because of Gordon’s call, the city burned with Joker’s antics. The Joker was a bigger threat than Gordon realized.

We can miss the big picture as Gordon did. We can see numbers and think they’re pointing us in the right direction. Or we can analyze the data and miss the up-and-coming issues.

Know you will make mistakes. You will miss the mark. However, you have to be willing to get back in. You have to keep going even after a failure of judgment.

5. Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine):

Know your limits, Master Wayne.

Alfred is Bruce Wayne’s butler. He also helps Bruce when he becomes Batman. He’s also worried about Bruce.

He warns Bruce to be careful. Bruce must know his limits and Alfred sees him pushing close to the edge.

The limits for Bruce will be deadly. If he goes too far, he will die.

As a leader, we have limits, too. These limits will vary but they all have consequences.

We can only push ourselves so far before we break. Or something in our lives breaks.

Know the limits. Don’t go beyond them.

6. You can’t escape your misdeeds:

Wayne Enterprises was in the process of doing a deal with Lau (Chin Han). Bruce felt there was something off about Lau. There was. He was involved with the Gotham mob.

As things began to get dangerous for Lau, Lau flew off to Hong Kong to escape the impending crisis. He failed.

Batman went to Hong Kong to bring Lau to justice. He captured him and brought him back to the United States.

Lau couldn’t escape his misdeeds. Neither can you.

You can run as much as you like when you do something wrong, however, you cannot escape what you’ve done. It will eventually catch up with you.

If you’re tempted to do something that is against the law, think about this before you do it. You cannot escape it.

7. Leaders are symbols for something better:

Brian (Andy Luther) was a man who put on a Batman suit because of the inspiration of Batman. He wanted to do something to help Gotham become better.

Sadly, Brian was captured by the Joker and tortured. The Joker broadcast an interrogation with Brian on TV. It was a public debacle. Yet, Brian wouldn’t break.

During the Joker’s interrogation, he asked Brian if he was the real Batman. Brian told him no. The Joker asked why. Brian shared why. Brian said:

Because he’s a symbol that we don’t have to be afraid of scum like you.

Whoa! That’s heavy stuff there. Brian looked to Batman as a symbol of hope. Of light in the darkness.

I believe leaders can have the same impact as Batman. We can be a symbol for something better. We can be a symbol that there is goodness and hope out there in business.

Be the symbol of hope for your team.

8. Great leaders look for a successor:

Bruce Wayne felt as if he could never lay down the mantle of Batman. There was no one to take over for him. If he left, there would be a void in Gotham.

Then he met Harvey Dent.

After vetting, he believed Dent could be the man Gotham needed. He felt with Dent leading Gotham, Gotham would no longer need Batman.

Are you looking for your replacement? Every leader needs to look for a successor.

This is a person who could take over for you when you’re gone. They’re someone you can trust and believe in.

Make sure you’re looking for a successor.

9. Beware of leaders who change their stories:

The Joker would ask people if they would like to know how he got his scarred smile. He would tell them a story. The story would often change.

In The Dark Knight, the Joker tells at least two different stories. The first time he shares his story, he states that his dad had cut the smile on his face. The story changes later and he says he cut the smile into his face to make his wife more comfortable.

Neither story was probably true.

The Joker’s use of changing stories helps us see a bad leadership trait. A bad leader lies. He tells half-truths, no-truths, and flat-out lies.

Good leaders don’t do this. They tell the truth and their stories don’t change.

10. Fear causes people to act irrationally:

The people of Gotham were afraid. The Joker was destroying the city. He had a demand to get the destruction to stop. If Batman were to turn himself in, the Joker would stop.

This made the people of Gotham go crazy. They turned against Batman. They wanted him to turn himself in.

Their desire for Batman to turn himself in wasn’t because it was the right thing to do. They wanted the protector of Gotham to turn himself in because they were living in fear.

People do crazy things when they’re living in fear. Your team will too.

If they’re fearful something isn’t right in the business, they will demand irrational action be taken.

We can help our teams not live in fear. We can be open and honest with them. We can help them see the bigger picture.

Do your best to alleviate your team’s fear when you can.

11. Leaders don’t take the credit:

Dent did something crazy. He claimed to be Batman. He wasn’t but the Joker didn’t know.

The news began to fawn all over Dent. They told him he was Gotham’s biggest hero. He didn’t accept the accolades.

Instead, Dent turned the accolades on his people, the Gotham City Police Department. He told the news reporters that the real heroes were the members of the GCPD.

Great leaders know they wouldn’t be where they are if it weren’t for their team. Their team does the heavy lifting while the leader helps their team get there.

Make sure you’re giving credit where credit is due. Also, make sure you’re not taking credit that should go to your team.

12. Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman):

You took my sonar concept and applied it to every phone in the city. With half the city feeding your sonar, you can image all of Gotham. This is wrong.

Fox worked for Wayne Enterprises. He also had a side gig helping Batman with improved crime-fighting equipment. When he discovered Batman had used his technology to create a mapping system of the whole city, he was not happy.

Fox saw this as an invasion of privacy. It wasn’t what his technology was designed to do. He called out his leader.

Leaders have to be ready for their team members to call out improper actions. They have to be willing to take correction.

Listen to your team when they bring critiques to you. They’re alerting you to these issues because they see it. You most likely don’t.

13. People are not as bad as you think they are:

The Joker rigged two ferries to explode. One held innocent people. The other held criminals for Arkham Assylum.

On each boat was a trigger. People on either boat could pull the trigger, blow up the other boat, and be saved.

The innocent people debated heavily whether or not to blow up the ferry holding the criminals. A vote said they would.

The ferry full of criminals debated too. Then one criminal stepped up to the man holding the detonator. He said he was going to do what needed to be done. What should have been done at the beginning.

This convicted felon took the detonator and threw it out the boat’s window. He wasn’t going to blow up innocent people.

We may have a preconceived notion that people are out for themselves. That they will do anything to get ahead.

Don’t get me wrong. There are people out there who will do that. But not everyone. Not most people.

Most people are not as bad as you think they are. They’re just trying to survive and take care of their families.

Let’s stop looking for the worst in people. Instead, let’s look for the best.

14. Commissioner James Gordon:

Because he can take it.

Gordon was promoted to commissioner after the standing commissioner was killed. He accepted the promotion.

Then, his family was kidnapped by Harvey Dent who had become Two-Face.

Two-Face wanted to make Gordon suffer. He wanted him to see his family die.

Batman came to the rescue and saved Gordon and his family. However, Batman had to pay a price. Batman became a wanted man.

To save Gordon’s family, Batman fought Two-Face. Two-Face fell from a window and died on the pavement below. Batman began to run when the police came to make it appear he was the one who had killed Two-Face and the police officers in the building.

Why? Because Batman could take the heat. He could deal with the consequences. The citizens of Gotham needed the memory of Dent to be positive.

Leaders will take the fall for those they lead. When things go bad, leaders will say it was their fault. They take the weight of failure.

Be the leader who bears the weight not because they deserve it. Bear the weight because you can handle it.

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