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Leadership Lessons from Doctor Strange: In the Multiverse of Madness

Please note: this article contains spoilers. Marvel comes full circle with this latest film by enlisting director Sam Raimi (famous for the first Spider Man trilogy starring Tobey McGuire) to return to his super hero roots. Doctor Strange has been ubiquitous in the Marvel Cinematic Universe since debuting back in 2016, but this latest adventure opens up literally endless possibilities for both Strange and Marvel's multiverse. Having just erased the world's memory of Spider Man, Dr. Stephen Strange is back for a solo outing with long-lasting implications. Despite teasing that this chapter would be a direct link to the consequences of spell casting at the end of Spider Man: No Way Home, this entry goes in an entirely unexpected direction. The synopsis of the film goes: In Marvel Studios’ Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, the MCU unlocks the Multiverse and pushes its boundaries further than ever before. Journey into the unknown with Doctor Strange, who, with the help of mystical allies both old and new, traverses the mind-bending and dangerous alternate realities of the Multiverse to confront a mysterious new adversary." On one level, this film is about the consequences of pursuing one's chosen path. But this movie is also very much about the tenuous relationship between vocation and contentment. As someone wise once said,

"Happiness and suffering exist only in the mind."

With this thought in mind, allow me to present 5 key leadership lessons from this eventful movie:

  1. Trust is essential: At the start of the movie, America Chavez (a new character who can jump between realities in the multiverse) is on the run from a multiverse monster and together with an alternate reality Doctor Strange are trying to recover a book that will allow them to defeat the beast. Strange instead turns on her and attempts to absorb her powers in order to keep them from the wrong hands. He ends up dead and America escapes to our reality where she continues to be pursued by another monster in this reality. This betrayal leads to America questioning our realities' Strange when she meets him after he vanquishes the monster with the help of Wong. She doesn't believe she can trust him and spends the majority of the movie resisting his help even though he does nothing but try to support her. Eventually he shows her how much he trusts her and empowers her to be the hero she has needed all along. Leadership Lesson: Trust is the currency of relationships and as such must be preserved at all cost. If you find yourself having difficulty convincing others, examine your degree of credibility, reliability, and professional intimacy and offset this by your own self-interest. The most effective leaders maximize the numerator in this trust equation and reduce their ego in order to facilitate more effective relationships with others.

  2. Be a part of the solution: Strange enlists the help of Wanda Maximoff aka The Scarlet Witch to try to understand who or what is pursuing America. In the film's first twist, it turns out that Wanda is actually the main antagonist. As Wanda can only see one solution to her problem of reuniting with her children in another reality, she decides she will stop at nothing to achieve her goal. She never considers asking America for her help, which shows how far gone she is at this point due to her interactions with the Dark Hold. Strange misses a major opportunity at this point to work with Wanda to find another way to achieve her goal and thus the events of the film ensue - beginning with the destruction of Kamar-Taj, continuing to the murder of another universe's Illuminati, and eventually trying to kill America. Leadership Lesson: Many times, leaders are asked to sacrifice things they value for the so-called greater good. The most effective leaders are able to turn zero-sum situations into trade-offs and paradoxical solutions. They do this by explaining what will be lost by sacrificing versus what could be gained by an and vs or approach to decision-making.

  3. Tunnel vision corrupts: Wanda only sees one way to reunite with her children. And she is blind to the consequences of this course of action (killing at least two people - America and the alternate reality version of herself). Because of her tunnel vision she goes from a hero to a terrible villain capable of tremendous destruction. Instead of seeking counsel or support, she doubles and triples down on her goal and almost destroys everything she once upheld to get what she wants. In the end, she has to bury herself as she finally realizes she is the only one who can stop herself. Leadership Lesson: The pressure to perform coupled with an increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous external environment can make a leader take short cuts in terms of problem solving and decision making. Remember, that your credibility is based on your ability to take a step back from the heat of situations and create the space and time to make the best possible selection of available options. Especially when it seems that there are no good options - this is where a leader's value is truly demonstrated. There are always choices - your job is to work hard to bring them to light.

  4. Self-awareness is not optional: Another recurring theme in the movie is that Strange is a slave to his basic nature. Because he needs to be in control, he is willing to make unnecessary sacrifices (like taking America's power for himself) if he believes it is in service of some greater good. This is why the Illuminati call him the greatest threat to the multiverse - his combination of power and cold rationality could lead to Thanos' level of arrogance and destructive goal-setting. Leadership Lesson: It has been proven that the more self-aware is a leader and her/his team the more successful. Data suggests that the most damaging situations occur when teams are comprised of significant over-raters (i.e., individuals who think they are contributing more than their team members think they are). Just being surrounded by teammates with low self-awareness (or a bunch of over-raters) cuts the chances of team success in half. That's why it behooves leaders to be life-long learners and the most open and receptive to feedback in order to raise their awareness of any potential blind spots, hidden strengths, and other abilities or proclivities that only experience can highlight.

  5. Practice strategic selfishness: Early in the movie when Strange attends his ex-fiancé (Christine's) wedding, she asks him if he's happy - mentioning that his biggest issue is that as a surgeon he had to be the one holding the knife and as a hero he has to be the one to save the day - he doesn't trust anyone else as much as he trusts himself. This theme turns up time and again through the movie as Strange tries to balance heroics with ultimate self-interest. An interaction with an alternate reality version of Christine shows him that he might not have to fully sacrifice his own needs to be of service to others. Leadership Lesson: The most effective people focus on what they control and have the mindset, habits, and tracking to make sure they receive the right inputs to maximize their positive impact on others. They are invested in the five types of love - self, interest, purpose, team, and financial and ensure their cups remain as full as possible so they can show up as the best version of themselves.

Overall, Doctor Strange: In the Multiverse of Madness takes the MCU into an entirely different direction with literally endless possibilities across a multiverse of realities. I'm excited to see Strange's continued growth and arc and look forward to the next installment in this trilogy. It was epic to see the Illuminati and other shocks (like Zombie Strange) - I thoroughly enjoyed it (4.5 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 and share with your network if you enjoyed and got anything out of it.

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