Hidden in The Avengers is one of the greatest lessons for those who find themselves in a position of leadership in any organization. It’s revealed thanks to Joss Whedon’s stellar screenwriting. As Tom Hiddleston (Loki) puts it, “He was trusted with the responsibility of combining the various tones and colors of different characters, many of whom have lead their own films, and trying to make a cohesive narrative that is thrilling, action-packed and entertaining and spectacular. And it was.”
Whedon has a history of developing main characters (see Wired article) within a variety and television and film projects who are notably self-aware. They know their own strengths and weaknesses and thrive because of it. As Whedon puts it, “It’s a flaw in my work that is enough of a virtue that I let it slide. I make people ridiculously self-aware because I hate deception.” No other Whedon work better illustrates this tendency than The Avengers. While the movie is your typical good-vs-evil narrative, it could be argued that the real conflict of the movie comes courtesy of the Avengers themselves. Their self-awareness both creates and resolves the conflict in a tale of world-saving misfit unity.
In that collision of superheroes lies the lesson to be learned.
Self-awareness without accountability is self-absorption.
We can discover much about the way we’re wired through a variety of great books or seminars, but true self-awareness is achieved when those discoveries are consistently confirmed, contested, or constructed by those closest to us… our God, our families, our leaders, our teams, our co-workers, and even those we’re leading. Accountability doesn’t just keep us from failure, it pushes us toward success.
If you’ve seen The Avengers, you know what I mean. Pay attention to who did what in the movie. In the end you’ll see much more than just a summer blockbuster, you’ll see one of the greatest leadership illustrations of teamwork, self-awareness, and accountability in modern blockbuster cinema.
It’s the old “iron sharpens iron” adage that rings true today. Self-aware leaders consistently invite those around them to give feedback on their performance. They are the first to admit mistakes. They are teachable and willing to change. They never make excuses or take credit for someone else’s idea. They aren’t defensive and dismissive. They value vision, even if it’s not their own. They speak from the heart and clearly communicate expectations. They invest in other’s dreams. When you are confident enough to be vulnerable with those closest to you, those same people will reciprocate that accountability… and ultimately they’ll be willing to invest in your dream.
As a leader, don’t stop at a strengths test to discover who you are. Be accountable to those closest to you and start your own “Avengers Initiative”. You’ll be on your way to self-awareness and who knows… you might just save the world.