Leadership Lessons from Avengers: Endgame



Please note: this article contains spoilers.

Eleven years, twenty-two movies, forty-eight hours of run-time, and countless franchises later - the culminating event of this phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is finally here! Avengers: Endgame is the massive sequel to last years heart-wrenching Infinity War in which many heroes lost their lives due to Thanos' single minded pursuit of the six infinity stones in order to eliminate half the universe with a snap of his fingers. After racking up over a billion dollars in record time, everyone is left wondering what the future holds for the MCU. If the past is any indicator, Marvel is just getting started!

The synopsis of the film goes: After the devastating events of Avengers: Infinity War (2018), the universe is in ruins. With the help of remaining allies, the Avengers assemble once more in order to undo Thanos' actions and restore order to the universe. The grave course of events set in motion by Thanos that wiped out half the universe and fractured the Avengers ranks compels the remaining Avengers to take one final stand in Marvel Studios' grand conclusion to twenty-two films, Avengers: Endgame.

This movie is true fan service to everyone who has invested significant time and emotions in these heroes' journeys over the past eleven years since Iron Man debuted. The film has to not only try to undo the cataclysmic events of Infinity War but it also has to appropriately send off beloved characters while setting up compelling adventures for the future. Viewed through the unique perspective of leadership, however, Avengers: Endgame is about recovering from ultimate defeat. This movie is also very much about the role hope plays in keeping a team moving forward when it appears all is lost. This quote by Martin Luther King Jr. sums up this sentiment perfectly:

We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.

With this thought in mind, allow me to present ten key leadership lessons gleaned from this dazzling film.

  1. Disappointment destroys: The Tony Stark who makes it back to Earth (with Captain Marvel's help) is bitter, disappointed, beaten, and completely selfish. He reopens barely closed wounds between himself and Steve Rogers (Captain America) in a scathing indictment of the Avengers, their purpose, and their ultimate failure. Then he leaves the team devoid of his unique brand of leadership. After the remaining Avengers still kill Thanos even though they can't undo the damage he's inflicted, the team splinters apart for the next five years. Leadership Lesson: A difficult fact is that disappointment within a team is all but inevitable. As a leader it is important to closely monitor the mood within your team and the impact of loss and disappointment on the interpersonal dynamics. When teammates fail each other or lose trust it can be almost impossible to pull the group back together. Your job as a leader is to teach your team how to overcome disappointment productively without allowing for this slow, insidious poison to infect and ultimately destroy your team culture.

  2. Failure is not fatal: After chopping off Thanos' head with Stormbreaker, Thor rebuilds Asgard on Earth and retreats to an existence where he drinks to insulate himself from his myriad failures - including allowing Thanos to kill half the universe because he "didn't go for the head" the first time. The once formidable God of Thunder is reduced to a shell of himself before getting some much needed advice from his mother when he and Rocket travel to the past to retrieve the Reality Stone. Over the rest of the film, Thor slowly rounds back into form in time for the final showdown. Leadership Lesson: Recovering from a crushing defeat is extremely difficult. Still, the worst thing a leader can do is withdraw from his/her responsibilities and people. A servant leader knows that whether or not the overarching objective is achieved, the people still require guidance, support, and to believe that a turnaround in fortunes is possible. It is the leader's job to get up off the floor first and then pick up everyone else to march forward together once again!

  3. Self-acceptance is vital: Bruce Banner knows all about recovering from crushing failure as his arc in Infinity War was one of the most frustrating due to his inability to unleash the beast within and contribute to the fight in a more meaningful way. Five years after the decimation, however, he has learned how to fuse his various strengths into the delightful Professor Hulk character. The same goes for Tony Stark who has to be reminded of his importance and who he is to the Avengers by his daughter and wife who enable him to get back to work and save the universe one last time. Leadership Lesson: Conducting a personal inventory can be the best first step after failing. Understanding that not achieving a goal does not have to define you forever is a crucial step in the recovery process. Leaders have an important role in reminding first themselves and then the rest of their teams who they are, what they have accomplished, what they are capable of, and how they can progress. Looking inside first is the key.

  4. Understand your context: Scott Lang (Ant Man) is trapped in the quantum realm for five years and is only released on a fluke. Upon escaping, he searches for clues as to what transpired and also seeks to deepen his understanding of what he experienced in the quantum realm. Excavating these answers ultimately leads to the time travel solution at the center of the film's second act. Leadership Lesson: One of the best ways to avoid failure in the future is to mine the past for answers as to what can work. Taking the time to ensure this context is understood is a key function of the leader. Acting fast is the key to competitive advantage, but ignoring context can be fatal. Widen your scope, contemplate previous learnings, and you give yourself the best chance to make good decisions in the present.

  5. Step up: Every time we see Captain Marvel in Endgame she is doing something heroic and amazing with her powers. From saving Tony's life, to putting Thanos in a sleeper hold allowing for his gauntlet to be chopped off his hand, to destroying Thanos' ship, to getting the new gauntlet to where it needs to go, she is constantly stepping up and making a huge difference. Leadership Lesson: Part of great leadership is allowing your people to develop by making and learning from their own mistakes, but there are crucial moments when you as the leader must leverage your entire capability set to not only show the way but go the way and make things happen because the situation requires this of you. The key is to know when and how to step up in this way without disabling the progress and development of your people.

  6. Success requires sacrifice: One of the primary reasons that Thanos defeats the Avengers in Infinity War is because he is willing to make the necessary sacrifices to achieve his ultimate goal. In Endgame, most of the key Avengers make some sort of sacrifice in order for the team to win this time. Bruce Banner sacrifices a part of his humanity to become the more evolved Professor Hulk; Tony Stark sacrifices his calm, peaceful family life in order to lead the Avengers back into time; The Ancient One sacrifices her timeline's security by giving the Time Stone to the Hulk; Clint Barton sacrifices his need for vengeance to rejoin the Avengers; Natasha Romanoff sacrifices her own life so that Clint can achieve the Soul Stone; many team members sacrifice their own safety to get the Infinity Gauntlet to the "Ant Van"; Tony sacrifices his life to destroy Thanos once and for all; and Captain America sacrifices his life in the future in order to deliver the Infinity Stones back to their respective places in the timeline. Leadership Lesson: A key component of high-performance teams is that the goal is more important than any individual accolades. With this mindset embedded in your team, people will willingly make the necessary sacrifices and do the dirty work so that the team wins - whether this means working longer hours when required or helping out a teammate who is struggling with delivering on a deadline, these myriad sacrifices all add up to enhanced achievement.

  7. Include everyone: In the final battle against Thanos, Doctor Strange ensures the Avengers bring their full force to the fight by including everyone who has ever fought for good over the past eleven years of the MCU. One amazing moment in the movie is when all of the incredible female Avengers are assembled as one group at a crucial interval in the skirmish. Leadership Lesson: Participative decision making in which everyone is involved in the decision-making process may seem to slow down momentum, but in actuality - more inputs often lead to higher quality decisions. Especially viewpoints from the people closest to the front line of the enterprise. Including these perspectives will both empower your people and sharpen the impact of decisions.

  8. Take your shot: The time heist is a huge gamble with a high likelihood of failure but all the data suggests this is the only chance the Avengers will get to undo the decimation. Because everyone is finally on the same page, aligned on the mission, engaged, and prepared to sacrifice for each other, the Avengers wrestle success from the jaws of defeat. Leadership Lesson: There are moments when you just have to go for it even when the likelihood of success is slim to none. When there are few options it is still better to move forward than to do nothing. Successful leaders understand this and are able to influence their people to make such tough calls and find ways to win even in the most dire of circumstances.

  9. Learn to let go: Steve Rogers arc in the movie is all about him learning that it is finally okay to leave the fight and turn over his shield to someone else. He mentions to Romanoff at the beginning of the film that although he is encouraging others to move on from the decimation, he just can't. His ability to finally choose a different destiny for himself by the end of the movie provides for a gratifying coda for the beloved character. Leadership Lesson: Being relentless, focused, and dedicated are great traits to possess as a leader. But there are moments where no amount of tenaciousness will change the outcome. It takes a self-aware leader to know the difference and change course as required when persistence will yield no greater result.

  10. True success is succession: Marvel and the Avengers know that there will always be another big bad out there and another battle to fight. Which is why they have continuously introduced new characters who can take up the mantle of The Avengers and refresh the team so that Earth (and the universe) is always protected. By the culmination of Endgame at Tony's funeral, it is amazing to see everyone who is left to continue on his legacy. Leadership Lesson: As a leader you must think beyond today's objectives and build bench strength by constantly developing the talent base within your team and organization. Invest your time in cultivating the next generation of leaders and this will lead to long term sustainable success. You will be remembered not only by the achievements you garner but by the legacy you leave behind in terms of enabled, capable people ready for the next challenges!

Overall, Avengers: Endgame truly wrapped up this phase of the MCU in an exciting, emotional, and cathartic finale while opening the door for the next chapters in the story. I can't wait for what's next! (4.5 out of 5 stars).

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 and share with your network if you enjoyed and got anything out of it.


Omar L. Harris is Associate Vice-President and Country Manager for Allergan PLC in Brazil. He is the author of Leader Board: The DNA of High-Performance Teams available for purchase in ebook or print on Amazon.com. Please follow him on instagram, twitter, and/or LinkedIn for more information and engagement.

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