Please note: this article contains spoilers.
After a year of environment crisis, social conflict, pandemic, and toxic politics comes a film that somehow encapsulates much of the chaos of what we experienced together with a needed catharsis. DC's revised model of focusing on making great standalone films with outstanding filmakers without focusing on extensive universe building is continuing to prove it's worth after Joker made a billion dollars at the box office and even without the benefit of a big cinema push, Wonder Woman 84 stands poised to do quite well financially and critically.
The synopsis of the film goes: Diana Prince lives quietly among mortals in the vibrant, sleek 1980s -- an era of excess driven by the pursuit of having it all. Though she's come into her full powers, she maintains a low profile by curating ancient artifacts, and only performing heroic acts incognito. But soon, Diana will have to muster all of her strength, wisdom and courage as she finds herself squaring off against Maxwell Lord and the Cheetah, a villainess who possesses superhuman strength and agility.
There are a lot of powerful themes covered in this movie from crass commercialism to wish fulfillment to recovering from loss. But this movie is also very much about maintaining your integrity despite what temptations others are succumbing to around you. In the words of Michele Obama:
We learned about honesty and integrity – that the truth matters… that you don’t take shortcuts or play by your own set of rules… and success doesn’t count unless you earn it fair and square.
With this thought in mind, allow me to present 5 key leadership lessons gleaned from this impactful feature.
Even heroes have wishes: When we meet Diana Prince (after a cool action sequence in a shopping mall where Wonder Woman saves the day), she is working at the Smithsonian and very lonely. Despite being an expert in her field and being an actual super hero, she has a hole in her heart from the love she lost in the first film. When asked what she would wish for if she only had a single wish - she inadvertently resurrects her flame Steve Trevor due to the power of the dreamstone in their possession. This wish due to her loneliness sets in motion Diana's character arc in the film. Leadership Lesson: Leading a team can be a lonely existence with no one to share experience with or vent to about your issues. This is why it is so essential for leaders to fill themselves up by pursuing their outside interests and passions, having fulfilling relationships with friends and family, and taking care of their health. The fuller you are you begin to realize that the work itself is fulfilling enough to overcome the bouts of loneliness.
Don't take the easy way: Max Lord, the antagonist of the film, has experienced a lot of failure in his pursuit of business success. He is the living example of faking it until making it by putting window dressing around a crumbling venture. When he discovers the existence of the Dreamstone, he makes it his mission to possess it so that he can manifest the success that has always eluded him. He tells himself he's doing this to make his son proud, but he wants success to heal his wounded ego from being born poor and being bullied as a child by other kids and his own father. Leadership Lesson: When the leader lacks integrity then whatever success they achieve via cutting corners comes with a significant psychological price. Winning via cheating isn't really winning at all - no matter the rewards that you receive. These feelings of illegitimacy and imposter syndrome that led to lying and cheating in the first place don't lesson on the other side of success - the fear of getting caught and watching your back rises in its place which leads to insecurity, anxiety, and intense regret. Real leaders know that it's better to do the hard things first than to take the easy way out.
Make your people feel seen: When we meet Barbara Minerva who evolves to become Wonder Woman's nemesis, Cheetah, she is a meek woman who goes through life without being truly appreciated. Even Barbara's boss doesn't recognize the person who she most recently hired. This invisibility drives Barbara's envy of Diana and her arc from intelligent, hard worker into a selfish villain. Leadership Lesson: Not everyone comes in the same package. There are introverts and extroverts, trendy folks and geeks. It is the leader's role to truly see the person in front of them and rather than attempt to make them something they are not - seek to understand their unique talents and help them use these to achieve their goals and overcome their challenges. When you compress the individuality of your people you make them feel less valued and this in turn leads to disengagement.
Challenge your strengths: The Wonder Woman we meet in this film is quite powerful but she learns that she has even more talents than she knew of such as turning a jet invisible, flying, and riding lightning bolts with her lasso of truth. Each time she does something she never knew she could the film rewards her with a magical moment of self-assurance and wonder that only comes when you truly begin to understand how powerful you actually are. Leadership Lesson: It is important to establish a culture where you develop people based on their strengths versus their areas of weakness. Just as steel sharpens steel, strength compounds strength. Challenging someone to deliver in an existing area of talent is the fastest way to discover new capabilities in your people, processes, or technology.
Be careful what you wish for: We learn in the film that the Dreamstone was forged by the Dolos, the god of lies, treachery, deception, and mischief. The stone grants a user their wish but exacts a toll, and the only way to reverse the exchange is by renouncing the wish or destroying the stone itself. Nothing in life is attained by simply wishing for it. The world is full of lottery winners who immediately went broke because they couldn't effectively deal with their newfound and easily gotten gains. When your intent for something is selfish or ego-driven then it comes at a price which is that the boost you receive from attaining it is short-lived forcing you to seek more and more of the same feeling versus working toward more sustainable sources of happiness. Leadership Lesson: Many people long to become leaders because of the increased financial rewards and power they get to wield over others. But the ego boost that comes from dominating others is temporary and doesn't distract from the emptiness you feel because you haven't truly found your positive guiding purpose that fulfills you. When your wish deals with improving conditions for others, the roles you seek and the work you do becomes so much more valueable.
Overall, Wonder Woman 84 improved upon the original and was a powerful allegory for integrity. (5 out of 5 stars from me).
What other leadership lessons did you glean from the film? Let us know in the comments below. And please give the article a thumbs up if you enjoyed and got anything out of it.
Omar L. Harris is the managing partner at Intent Consulting, a firm dedicated to improving employee experience and organizational performance and author of Leader Board: The DNA of High-Performance Teams and The Servant Leader's Manifesto available for purchase in ebook or print on Amazon.com. Please follow him Instagram, Twitter, and/or Linkedin for more information and engagement.