It’s the last line in Iron Man 3. Not to spoil it for anyone who has not yet watched, but it’s the moment when Tony Stark sheds the suit and accepts that he is all that the Iron Man represents. As a man. As a superhero.
Last week, I asked the questions “What is your superpower? What is your kryptonite?” I wanted to wait until after I had the chance to watch the latest Iron Man movie to share with you why – when it comes to superheroes – I feel an affinity with Tony Stark’s journey.
Of all the superhero stories, Tony’s is different because he does not keep his identity secret. Instead, he announces to the world who he is. He wears his suit proudly. Arrogantly.
Tony is an anti-hero. He is selfish, immature, conceited and completely self-involved. Once he becomes the Iron Man, he is still all of those things, but with a great power that requires a level of responsibility he has not yet learned.
When Tony finally cares for someone else more than he cares about himself, he becomes vulnerable in a way that the suit cannot help. The suit becomes a barrier between him and the world. The version of himself where he feels a sense of control. Where he feels he can protect what’s important.
Ultimately, it is when Tony embraces all that the Iron Man represents, without the use of the suit, that he becomes a true hero.
I believe Tony’s journey is every leaders journey. That we all have a suit – a level of protection that we develop. While it may be beneficial and necessary for a time, ultimately we need to shed it for us to be the best, most capable leaders we can be.
To demonstrate what I mean, here’s my Iron Man story…
I started out in management at a very young age. I was 21 and felt that I needed to project a level of confidence in all that I did. I was a young civilian girl managing Marines, so I showed no fear. I showed no vulnerability.
For years, I kept things professional at work. While I did my best to connect with my team, it was through leading by example and other methods that I figured out along the way. My protective shell – my “suit” – was well established.
When I arrived at my current company, it seemed that everyone knew everyone else in our local office. In fact, many had gone to school together or their kids knew each other. My old methods would no longer work in an environment where getting things done is all about “knowing a guy.”
I began to open up. I shared. I stopped hiding behind my professionalism and let my team see me as human. I revealed the person behind the suit.
In the years since, interpersonal connection has become the cornerstone of my beliefs and focus as a leader. Watching Iron Man 3, I realized that, like Tony, I had put the suit away. Instead of diminishing my ability, I found I operated better without it.
I appreciate that I needed the suit for a period of time, but now, my secret identity is my only identity.
Do you have an Iron Man story? Have you shed the suit? I’d love it if you would share your story in the comments to keep the conversation going.