*****Spoilers contained within, proceed at your own risk*****


As a kid, I was a comic book freak. Batman, Daredevil, Spiderman, Green Lantern, Fantastic Four, the Flash (what the hell ever happened to the Flash????), Aquaman, Captain America, and, of course, Iron Man. How could you not love comics? Save the girl, save the city, be forever equipped with brilliant snarkiness, and the awesome costumes….oh man, I loved the costumes [there was a brief time of my life when my greatest desire was to wear a cape and tights, but I digress]. Again I say, how could you not love comics?

I’ve grown up (no comments) and so have my comic book heroes – with varying degrees of success. Spiderman is a geek, Batman is a psychopath, Superman is duller than dirt, Thor is a meathead, Green Lantern is gay (yup, check it out), Aquaman and Flash disappeared, and most tragically – Daredevil is Ben Affleck…oh, the humanity.

But there has been one breakout star.

Ironman. Thanks to the brilliance of Robert Downey, Jr. and the advent of CGI, everyone loves Ironman. My wife couldn’t wait to see “Ironman 3″…that, in itself, is the most telling revelation in the popularity of Mr. Ironpants.

For me, the magic appeal of superheroes left long ago (Clooney as Batman sealed it), but for life lessons

The Original Iron Man..."Bully!"

The Original Iron Man…”Bully!”

you could do a lot worse. In terms of leadership, the flying Tin Can provides some exceptional nuggets of wisdom:

  1. Keep your Powder Dry ~ Cool and cocky, Tony Stark (secret identity, neophytes) rarely rattles. Until, that is, his button gets pushed by a hippie terrorist named “The Mandarin.” Threats are made, chests are puffed up, tempers are lost, cliff-side houses are scud-missled into the Pacific ~ you see this same story repeated all the time.
  2. Occasionally step away from the whirlwind ~ Forced to leave the chaos of his normal environment, Mr. Stark visits the sticks of Tennessee. A mansion with robot-servants is replaced by a garage apartment and wise-a** 9-year old. It’s in this unpolished condition Stark is able to see the situation more clearly, recooperate, and re-establish. Get out of the bubble, decompress, gain perspective.
  3. A dose of humility never hurts ~ Robert Downey, Jr. was made for this role…life imitates fiction, and here’s a guy who, despite immense talent, had been my generation’s version of Lindsey Lohan, minus the idiot parents. Tony Stark, despite money, wealth, fame, privilege, and Gwyneth, can’t shut up long enough to count his blessings. Humble pie, when served, can cause a time of reflection, change, and (hopefully) redemption. Luckily for Tony (and Downey), he lived to learn the lesson.

Okay, so there’s probably more classical leadership lessons at Kellogg, but my rates are way more reasonable. Like most of you, I find myself finding (if not actively looking for) these small but recognizable metaphors. If they come with a large popcorn, all the better.

John “Whit” Whitaker is Founder of the HR Hardball™ Straight talk, no-nonsense approach to workplace issues. 

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