Eight Common Sense Leadership Lessons from 2017's Wonder Woman
If anyone has known me long enough, they know that there are a few pop culture/geeky fandoms I'm practically obsessed with. Anything Star Wars. Marvel's Spider-Woman. But the one that comes to mind most of the time any of my friends of family think of me is my fixation with Wonder Woman.
Actual crown I own:
So it was with complete giddiness that I purchased my ticket for opening weekend of Wonder Woman. To my delight, it was one of the most enjoyable moviegoing experiences I've ever had, and it currently ranks as my top superhero film ever (easily in my top 15 films of all time).
***If you haven't seen the movie yet, this is where I leave you; major spoilers ahead.***
Now this is where I could get into the fact that it was a female-directed picture, or that the film was carried by a female lead, or just how important this movie is to many, many women around the world, but you've probably read about all that already. What I have to offer, however, is what a powerful metaphor the film was for me, personally, in terms of leadership, and how it beautifully illustrated so many things that women have a difficult time vocalizing in their careers.
In my experience, leadership oftentimes looks very different for women than it does for men and different, still, for women of color. Career paths today don't look like they did even ten years ago. I believe Patty Jenkins and the other women involved with this production understand this, and spoke to their audiences in a way that truly resonated in terms of careers and calling.
So here's what I've got. Here are the eight common sense leadership lessons I learned from Wonder Woman:
1. Lead with Empathy
Ask anyone who leads with emotional intelligence, and they'll tell you just how important empathy is. Throughout the film, Diana was constantly guided by her feelings and the feelings of others. It allowed her to connect with mortals no matter what country they were from or what language they spoke. Side note: You will never see any of the major male superheroes doing this. Bruce Wayne internalizes everything, and makes it all about himself. Superman feels what is more like sympathy, or pity, for others but never truly empathy. Don't get me started on the Skywalker family and all their drama. It's something that was missing from major hero genres, but they nailed it here. Empathy is what made Diana an effective leader.
2. Get in the Trenches
Where Diana comes from, if her island is under attack, the Queen (her mother) and the General (her aunt) do not hesitate to join the fight. It's what they know to do. So imagine her surprise when Diana sees military commanders arguing amongst themselves in a rather protected area of London, far away from the action. When it comes to leadership, the most effective leaders know what it's like to be in the fight, alongside their men (or women), and will often join them in battle. If you're a leader in any field, ask yourself when was the last time you went into battle with the soldiers under your command? What would that look like for you?
3. Partner with Planners
One of my favorite scenes is when Diana arrives in London and exclaims, "To the war!" She's an action-oriented gal. Like me. But whether a visionary or an action-oriented leader, smart leaders know that they also need a well thought out plan. Chris Pine's character, Steve Trevor, played a terrific counterpart to Diana's activation, and the pair's strengths complemented one another. Find people with gifts, talents and leadership styles that are complementary to your own. Diverse ways of doing things are incredibly valuable in the business arena.
4. Dress the Part
Clothing is very important and speaks volumes about who you are and what you value. As much of a bombshell as she was, Diana would not have been effective in 1918 London if she walked around in battle armor all day. It might have been what she was used to, or even appropriate at times, but a true leader knows that appearance and presentation are very important elements. People often say "dress for the job you want", but perhaps that's a bit short-sighted in terms of leadership. Rather than dressing to get noticed, or dressing for future-you, why not dress in a way that makes you more effective in your job. Period. That may mean different things to people, and that's okay too. I will always stick to my uniform of a dress and pumps because it makes me feel like me, but an effective me. To others, this might mean a wardrobe of all black, or an insistence on being casual. But whatever it is, do it -- wear it -- with purpose. Let clothing make you a better, more effective, you.
5. Forget the Rules
Can we talk again about the fact that the majority of this film took place in 1918? This was before women could have a vote. The sheer amount of rules and expectations that women had upon their shoulders was unlike anything we in the western world know today. Luckily for us the audience, Diana came from a place where such rules didn't exist. Gender rules and expectations had no impact whatsoever on her. A smart leader, like Diana, knows when to follow the rules (i.e. with her clothing) and when to break them (remember No Man's Land?).
6. Don't Negate Naivety
Throughout the film, Diana was constantly reminded of her inexperience, her naivety, and her heart. All of these considered weaknesses in the traditional business world and especially in war. But when push came to shove, she was ready to prove herself and fight for what was right time and again. Combined with empathy, naivety can be an important and powerful trait. It can be a superpower. It can allow you to see things from different angles and perspectives. It can force you to ask important questions in regards to the way things are done. It can challenge the status quo. As someone who has been called "Pollyanna" more than once in a professional setting, I can tell you that sometimes naivety is not appreciated. But it is necessary.
7. Evolve Your Talents
Diana believed that her sword would serve the ultimate purpose of defeating war. She trained and developed her talents around this idea. But when Ares revealed that the weapon would not kill him, that she was the actual weapon, her talents and her abilities had to evolve (and quickly). As people move through the ranks of management and leadership, we must discover and cultivate new talents within ourselves. Constant education, continued learning, and passion for what we do can serve to grow these talents or help us discover what they are.
8. Find Mentors and Mentees
If it wasn't for her aunt, Antiope, I wonder if Diana would have come to discover her talents, passions and special abilities to the extent that she did in the film. This is one of the reasons I found this character, played by Robin Wright, so compelling. Having mentors is so important. Finding mentees can be life-changing. No matter what stage you're in, in terms of career, you can (and should) find both. Find ways to give back, but don't forget that you need support and encouragement too.
In addition to these insights, here are some great Tweets I've gathered, from women who totally get it. Take a look: