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Marvel-ous ideas for leadership

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Warning: If you’re planning to watch any Marvel Universe movies but somehow just haven’t gotten around to it, plot spoilers follow. But then, on the other hand, if you haven’t already watched any of these movies you probably never will, which will make what follows just a bit less compelling. Such are the hazards of building an intellectual edifice on a pop culture foundation.

I have a weakness for superhero movies. I also have a weakness for chewing on Hey, Waitasec! questions that don’t occur to me until a few days later.

That’s questions like why, in the first Avengers movie, during the whole battle for New York City, the entire U.S. Airforce never bothered to show up.

But never mind that. We can chalk it up to dramatic license, because had a squadron or two of advanced jet fighters equipped with heat seeking missiles joined in, this would have just cramped our superheroes’ style(s).

Black Panther doesn’t get off so easily.

Oh, don’t be like that. My gripe: The entire plot centers on the most technologically advanced country on the planet, Wakanda, relying on a governance model built on an inherited monarchy complemented with trial by combat.

What could possibly go wrong?

Plenty could, and in the movie it does. What fixes it? If you’re thinking it’s everyone in Wakanda saying, “Hey, waitasec! Shouldn’t we be convening a constitutional convention?” you’d be wrong. It ends up getting fixed by a second trial by combat, with everyone in Wakanda perfectly willing to follow the lead of a bullying psychopath should he win round two as well.

He doesn’t — the good guy wins this one, luckily enough — but really, this is a terrible way for a nation to decide on who is going to lead it.

What does this have to do with you and your leadership responsibilities?

Well, maybe it’s a stretch, but some executives do seem to admire the trial-by-combat approach to choosing who gets to decide what, and how. They encourage inter-manager rivalries on the grounds that this leads to more energy and initiative.

Which it does. That the energy and initiative are largely wasted doesn’t seem to matter very much.

Less of a stretch is something fundamental in any organization, from the board of directors on down: Figuring out how to choose the right person to put in charge of each area of responsibility.

The lesson from Black Panther? Strip away the plot and specific characters and you come to this: The tests through which Wakanda chooses its leader have nothing at all to do with the tests its leader has to deal with when holding its leadership office.

Well, in the movie it sorta does because in it the leader doesn’t lead all that much. He acts like those fighting alongside him only better. Yes, he’s inspirational, but no, he doesn’t seem to think in terms of strategy, tactics, and logistics all that much.

Or, more broadly, that leaders of any organization need to think in terms of … well, in terms of the eight tasks of leadership.

Anyway, when choosing the leaders who report to you, don’t make this mistake. Too many times, executives outsmart themselves when choosing managers, when an unstructured conversation built around “These are the challenges you’re going to face if I put you in the job. How would you go about facing them?” would do the job far better, and far more naturally.

But enough carping about Black Panther. Let’s carp about The Avengers: The Age of Ultron instead, and more specifically, how much better things would have turned out had Tony Stark understood a core principle of application development: You always test software. Testing it before you put it in production is better.

I mean seriously: Launching a full-fledged, self-motivated AI into PROD … in this case, a real-world environment in which it had full access to a wide range of destructive weaponry … without first examining its behavior in TEST? Seriously?

Now to be fair, had Tony Stark followed standard testing protocols followed by ITIL-style change management, the movie would have been horrifically dull.

But since there was a movie, and in it you can see what happens with insufficient testing protocols, maybe this would be a good time to review your own testing methods … not only when you deploy software, but also when you deploy new processes and practices that affect how Real Paying Customers do business with your business.

I’m on vacation this week, so I’ll leave you to finish it. Your homework assignment: In the Comments, post your Hey, Waitasec! analysis of Captain America: Civil War.

And yes, plot spoilers are encouraged.

Comments (1)

  • I’ll skip talking about CACW because it didn’t leave much of an impression on me.

    For the purposes of this article, I shall posit that your white racism in criticizing Black Panther can be fixed at some future point in time. (One hopes 🙁 )

    But, to be serious, you do raise some very valid concerns about how to identify good IT leadership. She or he must be seen as technically competent by everyone in IT, but not odious (e.g., Sheldon Cooper of TBBT) and a good communicator by those outside of IT.

    Actually, the young king of Wakanda, T’Challa, was competent for his job as head of a largely decentralized and wealthy country of very highly educated people. His strength was that mwith his charisma and superpowers he could play out the roles that gave legitamacy to the traditions and cultural mythologies the helped to make Wakanda both powerful and non-dominating.

    Few IT departments are as decentralized as Wakanda, with workers as well rounded and well educated, yet grounded, as Wakandans are portrayed.

    Perhaps someone like Black Widow who is super-competent, super-astute, and who can blend in or stand-out, as the situation calls for, would make the best IT manager.

    Meanwhile, Wakanda Forever!

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