In this edition of Reel Leadership, we focus on the 2023 A24 film The Iron Claw. The Iron Claw focuses on what may be considered the greatest family in professional wrestling.
The Von Erichs consisted of Kevin Von Erich (Zac Efron), Kerry Von Erich (Jeremy Allen White), David Von Erich (Harris Dickinson), Mike Von Erich (Stanley Simons), and Chris Von Erich (not mentioned in the film). Kevin, Kerry, and David were terrific wrestlers. Mike… He struggled. Then, there was their father, Fritz Von Erich (Holt McCallany). He founded the World Class Championship Wrestling in Dallas, Texas. He was a powerful wrestler in his own right who pushed his children far beyond what he should have.
However, many believed the family was cursed.
Five of the six children Fritz had with his wife, Doris Von Erich (Maura Tierney) passed away by the age of 35. Whether it was in childhood from an accident, suicide, or drug overdose, death followed their family. It is tragic seeing how their family was torn apart.
It was also an eye-opener into how the pressures of success can destroy someone.
This all lays the groundwork for one of the best films I’ve seen in quite some time. The storytelling was fantastic, the topic interesting, and the film engaging. It’s a highly recommended film for anyone to watch, especially wrestling fans.
With everything that happened in the Von Erichs’ lives, The Iron Claw is packed with leadership lessons. We’ll take a look at those leadership lessons in this post.
Quotes And Leadership Lessons From The Iron Claw
1. Fritz Von Erich:
If I want to be a star, I gotta act like a star.
Fritz was a powerhouse wrestler. Yet, he couldn’t rise to the next level unless he began to act like he was a superstar.
In his industry, that meant fancy cars, a better home, and more class.
What would it take for you to be a leader? Or maybe it’s to become a better leader?
You don’t have to have the fancy car, better home, or anything like that. You do have to act like a leader, though.
This means you have to do what’s right, do what’s hard, and do what’s important. Act like a leader.
2. Being the biggest and strongest organization won’t save it:
Fritz, once again, believed that if his sons were the biggest and strongest wrestlers out there, nothing could hurt them. As you watch The Iron Claw, you see just how wrong Fritz’s view was.
Five of his children passed away. They never reached that true wrestling superstar status. Their strength, their size… it didn’t matter in the end.
The truth is the same in your organization. Being the biggest or strongest won’t save your organization if it’s unhealthy.
Work on the culture of your organization. Make sure things are right on the inside so you can win on the outside.
3. Mystery draws interest:
Kevin Von Erich was the WCCW Champion, but he had a surprise for wrestling fans. He would have a secret tag team partner in his match against Bruiser Brody (Cazzey Louis Cereghino) and Gino Hernandez (Ryan Nemeth).
No one knew who this wrestler would be. But all the fans were interested. They wanted to see who Kevin was going to partner with.
When David Von Erich showed up, the crowd went wild!
Do you have mystery in your organization? Not with your employees (it’s bad to keep them in the dark on important matters) but with customers and prospective customers.
Think of the iPhone launches of old. There’d be an image of a phone and that’s it. Or there’s Dollar Shave Club, which posted a single video on their website that went viral. It was simple and mysterious but got people interested.
Find ways to be mysterious.
4. Fill missing spots:
Jim Ross (I believe this is who the man represented, though he’s not listed in the credits) comes to Fritz. He tells him that the WCCW could get a prime-time television spot. But they’re missing something.
That something? A world champion. They needed to fill this spot to become big.
Leaders must look for ways to fill the missing spots in their organizations. Find what’s missing. Fill it.
It could be a technical position, such as an IT specialist or maintenance person. It could be the addition of another salesperson.
Whatever it is, find it. Fill it. Give your organization full power.
5. Kevin Von Erich:
You move up in any industry based on your performances, right? So a belt, like my Texas title – it’s really just a job promotion, and the promoters keep you moving up if you do well. And if you reach the top, you become world champ as a reward because you’re the best based on your ability and on how the crowd responds to you.
Kevin went on a date with a young woman, Pam Adkisson (Lily James). During their date, Pam talks to Kevin about wrestling. She says it’s fake, pre-arranged.
While the wrestling industry is scripted, Kevin retorted that there’s more to wrestling than that. Professional wrestling is like any other industry.
You have to perform. You’re rewarded based on your performance, your ability, and your interaction with others.
Wow! That’s the truth.
You and others in your organization will move up based on your performance. How well you do the job will determine how far you go in your career.
Do your best.
6. Don’t be afraid to show your skills:
Kevin was booked to face Harley Race (Kevin Anton). Harley Race was the World Heavyweight Champion. It was a massive honor for Kevin to face Harley.
Fritz knew that if Kevin put on a great match, Kevin could have a chance at the World Heavyweight Championship belt. All he needed to do was to go out and perform.
Consider what it will take for you to move up in your organization. What skill(s) do you need to show to others in your organization for them to notice you?
Go out, develop those skills. Then show them off. Let those in your organization know that you’ve upped your leadership skillset.
People will take notice.
7. Doing what is right will take away some opportunities:
Kerry Von Erich was set to go to the 1980 Summer Olympics. However, United States President Jimmy Carter had the United States boycott the 1980 Summer Olympics because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
President Carter knew it was a tough decision and it would hurt the Olympic athletes who had trained so hard to get to the Olympics. The atrocities of the Soviet Union were so grievous that he couldn’t overlook them. He had to do what was right despite the opportunity cost.
We look at opportunities and think we have to take them all. We don’t. Doing what is right will take away opportunities.
Be willing to walk away from an opportunity if it doesn’t align with your morals or values. It’s not worth it to give up what you believe.
8. Bitterness will consume you if you let it:
Fritz was bitter at the world. So, he was hard on his sons. He had seen his chance to play football taken from him. Then Kerry had the Olympics stripped from him.
This led to Fritz asking Kerry to join the family in the wrestling business, though he would never wish the business on anyone.
Kerry became a great wrestler as a Von Erich and then as the Texas Tornado. But the wrestling world and his demons got to him. He lost his foot in a motorcycle accident, returned to the ring, and then committed suicide.
Fritz’s bitterness at the world put his family at risk. It consumed him and his family.
Beware of bitterness. It can creep into your life and consume you. You will make poor decisions if you’re making them with bitterness in your heart.
9. Fritz Von Erich:
You made your brother better.
Kevin was expected to get the title shot. He didn’t. That honor went to his brother, David Von Erich.
David would fight Ric Flair (Aaron Dean Eisenberg) despite all the effort Kevin had put in.
Fritz saw the disappointment on his son’s face. He comforted him by letting him know that Kevin had made David a better wrestler.
Your job isn’t to rise through the ranks. It isn’t to be the biggest or most well-known leader.
Your job is to make others better.
Put aside your pride. Put aside your desire. Make others better. That’s what leaders do.
10. Pay attention to your health:
Kevin got married to Pam. During their wedding reception, Kevin went to the bathroom and heard someone throwing up in the bathroom stall. He discovers his brother David lying on the ground with his head in the toilet.
David claimed it was just a bug. He’d be fine. He just needed to get through it.
David wouldn’t be okay. When he traveled to Japan for his World Championship Title shot, he passed away from a ruptured intestine.
Don’t be like David. Your health and your life are important.
Listen to your body. If it’s telling you something is wrong, get checked out.
11. Kerry Von Erich:
I’m having trouble coming down.
After David Von Erich’s death, his title shot was passed on to Kerry Von Erich. Kerry battled “Nature Boy” Ric Flair to win the NWA World Heavyweight Championship title. He finally brings a world title to the Von Erich family.
After the match, Kerry goes to the Von Erich family home. Kevin walks into the room to see Kerry there. The brothers talk, and Kerry shares that he’s having trouble coming down after the biggest win of his life.
Kerry then leaves the home on his motorcycle. It was a decision that would change his life forever, as it is the night Kerry Von Erich has a motorcycle accident and loses his foot.
Major success can bring about a sense of restlessness. It can make us reach a high we don’t know how to come down from.
You may need to find someone in your life who can talk you down after a big win. Find someone who has been there, done that. They know the struggles that can come from great success.
Don’t let your success lead to a future failure.
12. Kevin Von Erich:
Maybe this is God’s way of telling you to slow down.
Kerry Von Erich wanted to get back to wrestling after losing his foot. He would, eventually, and fans wouldn’t even know.
In the meantime, Kerry struggled. He practiced to wrestle with his missing foot hidden. He’d fall, have extreme pain, and mental anguish.
Still, he pushed through.
Kevin saw this. He encouraged Kerry to slow down. Maybe he needed to take things slower.
Business tells us that we are supposed to go 100 miles per hour. We’re supposed to get things done, and quickly.
I want to tell you that’s not the truth. It’s okay to slow down. Take your time. Figure things out.
Let your foot off the gas pedal. Slow down. Figure things out.
Maybe God is telling you to slow down.
13. We have to make tough decisions:
Jerry Jarrett (Terry J. Nelson) had been a major force in the WCCW. Yet, he leaves to go to the WWF to try to become even bigger.
After leaving the WCCW, Jerry goes back to Kevin. He makes Kevin an offer to buy out the wrestling organization he owns.
Kevin has a tough decision to make. Does he keep the wrestling organization his father built or does he sell?
You’re going to have tough decisions to make throughout your career. It may be to switch organizations. It may be to sell the organization you’re leading. Or it could be letting go of great people.
Be prepared and willing to make those tough decisions. If you can’t make them, someone else will make them for you.
14. You may think you have no one to support you but you do:
Kerry calls up Kevin. He tells him that he’s hurting. He wants it all to end. There’s nothing left to live for and he has no one.
Kevin knows this isn’t true. Kerry had his family. They would be there to support him.
Sadly, that wasn’t enough for Kerry. He winds up at his father’s ranch. On February 18th, 1993, Kerry commits suicide with a single gunshot to his heart.
The Von Erich’s family had a lot of suicide occur within it. Too many deaths…
Don’t be like Kerry. Understand you do have people who love and care for you.
There are people cheering you on. There are people who care for you. There are people who will sit and listen to you.
Find those people. Reach out to them when you need the support.
15. It’s okay to cry and be sad:
Kevin sits outside watching his boys play. He begins to cry. His sons see him weeping, and he tries to force himself to stop.
His boys ask Kevin what’s wrong. Kevin tells them they shouldn’t see him crying. Men don’t cry.
The boys know this is a lie. They tell him everyone cries. It’s okay…
We want to be big, tough, macho people. We think we can’t show emotions.
It’s okay to be sad. You’re making big decisions that don’t always work out. It’s okay to cry. Our emotions can get to us.
Don’t hold it all in. Let it out.