Trick or Treat. Upside or Downside. Seems an appropriate day for a Leadership (optimise upside) and Management (minimise downside) post. And what better source of insights than one of the most popular costumes to parade down the suburban streets tonight – Spiderman.

Spiderman 2 is a coming of age film for Peter Parker…middle age. I say ‘middle age’, because his story is one of a ‘midlife crisis’ when the ‘death of dreams’ define ones outlook.

Spiderman has to reconcile the balance between ‘Super Hero’ and ‘Peter Parker’ in the same way, and with the same dynamics as organisations balancing Leadership and Management. Now, given the romanticising of ‘Leadership’, you might think that the ‘Super Hero’ persona represents the ‘Leader’. Intriguingly enough, as portrayed in S2, ‘Peter Parker’ is portrays the ‘Leader’ and ‘Spiderman’ portrays the ‘Manager’.

It is Peter Parker who dreams of upside potential. A prominent career in physics, a life with his sweetheart Mary Jane, and (particularly germane to a business context) more money. It is Spiderman who contends with minimising downside. The downsides of crime waves, the downsides of children dying, the downsides of Manhattan being obliterated, and the downsides of compromising his uncle’s memory and ideals. The entire movie is his struggle with this duality.

And what do we learn from Spidey?…

  • Balance – “I made a choice once to live a life of responsibility. A life she can never be a part of. Who am I? I’m Spider-Man, given a job to do. And I’m Peter Parker, and I too have a job.” (second half of the first line of the film) There is no one answer. He tries both extremes with equal miserable results. At the outset, he is all but consumed by ‘Spiderman’ leaving his life a wreck. Then, he turns to shun Spiderman completely and be a pure Peter Parker leaving the world a wreck (“Crime up 75%”).
  • Support – “I know you think we can’t be together, but can’t you respect me enough to let me make my own decision? I know there’ll be risks but I want to face them with you. It’s wrong that we should be only half alive… half of ourselves.” (Mary Jane Watson) You can’t do it on your own. When he comes to term with his balance, the key to making it work is a partner (Mary Jane) willing to take on her share of burden and risk
  • Transparency – “She looks at me every day. Mary Jane Watson. Oh boy! If she only knew how I felt about her. But she can never know.” (first half of first line of the film) One of his self-imposed handicaps was his secret identity. This embargo of candour with key stakeholders in his life amplifying the stress and difficulty intensely. When he lets go of this constrains a bit, many more possibilities open up to him.
  • Death of Dreams – “I believe there’s a hero in all of us, that keeps us honest, gives us strength, makes us noble, and finally allows us to die with pride, even though sometimes we have to be steady, and give up the thing we want the most. Even our dreams.” (May Parker) He becomes reconciled with the death of his dream of having it all. A dream all too many of our current generation cling to though the dawn light creeps in through the shade starting to wake us from our slumber. He can have both sides of his life, and he can have the most important things, but has can’t have all of either.  In a Leadership context, ‘death of dreams’ is about making tough decisions that let go of pet strategies, and write off unsuccessful investments.

Happy Halloween!