In Batman v Leadership, Part 1, I discussed five leadership traits of The Batman that represent some of his good, positive leader qualities. But anyone familiar with the Dark Knight’s M.O. knows his techniques, actions, and demeanor are often at odds with what we’d want our kids to take away as healthy behaviors.
Continuing and concluding my two-part look at some of Batman’s leadership characteristics, I now bring you some of the Caped Crusader’s less desirable qualities from which we might be able to learn and avoid ourselves.
1) Failing to be a Buddy
If you’re a Batman fan and haven’t yet, I highly recommend reading The Long Halloween, one of the quintessential Dark Knight tales. Among other plotlines, we get the origin story of the alliance between Commissioner Jim Gordon, District Attorney Harvey Dent, and Batman.
The three come together to take down crime boss Carmine “The Roman” Falcone. Jimbo and Harv are probably the closest Bats ever gets to real-life friends, but while Bruce is hyper-focused on getting to the bottom of the Holiday Killer mystery, the primary plot of the book, he totally misses Dent’s slow decline into bipolar madness.
In fact, Batman even suspects Harvey of being the killer at one point. (To be fair, Dent suspects Bruce Wayne, too, but he lets that go.) By the time Batman finally gets to the bottom of the case, Dent – now Two-Face (read the book for the details) – goes nuts and murders Falcone and the crooked ADA. There’s no way to know, but much of the madness may have been prevented if Bruce would’ve removed his head from his ass and checked up on his friend.
Leaders have to look out for the people in their charge, but there’s more to it. You also have to look out for your peers and, sometimes, for your boss too. Even if none of the signs are there, your buddy may be going through something, and you paying attention and talking to them can truly make a difference. Don’t charge ahead full speed with blinders on; pay attention to those around you.
2) Lying to the Team; Communicating Poorly
In the modern masterpiece that is “Death of the Family,” Batman once again faces off against his archenemy, the Joker, in the villain’s first New 52 story. The plot basically starts with a failure to communicate. Bruce found a Joker card in the Batcave, implying that the Joker knew where the cave was, had been there, and, consequently, knew the identity of Batman and everyone in the Bat Family. Instead of warning his wards and allies, however, he keeps the intel to himself, reasoning that it couldn’t possibly be true.
The Joker eventually tells the team that he knows their identities, and they confront Bruce, awkwardly. As per usual, he doesn’t really apologize.
By the end of the arc, the Joker captured the whole Bat Family, made them think he sliced their faces off, then appears to kill himself as Batman escapes his restraints and tries to get the baddie. (Seriously macabre stuff, but seriously awesome joker material.)
As it turned out, the Clown Prince of Crime couldn’t care less about the identities of the Bat Family (or about them at all for that matter). Not even interested in plain clothed Bruce Wayne, the Joker only had (weirdly erotic) eyes for Batman.
Still, this wasn’t the first or the last time Bruce would lie to those closest to him. He let everyone believe Dick Grayson was dead at the conclusion of the Forever Evil crossover event, even though the former Boy Wonder lived and went on to have his own new spy comic title (which is surprisingly good). He also kept the Bat Family out of the loop when he went off his rocker trying to resurrect his dead son, Damian. (Did I mention not to question comic logic too much yet?)
Lying is never an admirable leadership trait, whether the lies are blatant or by omission. Batman could have spared a lot of drama and trouble if he kept those closest to him in the loop. Leaders must be open and honest with their teams. Communication truly is crucial to success. Besides, how can you possibly expect anyone to follow you if they can’t trust you?
Speaking of trust….
3) Failing to Trust
More than most fictional characters, Bruce Wayne arguably has the best reason to distrust others. He witnessed the brutal murder of his parents. He watched his home city fall to corruption and crime. He saw people he grew close to fall to evil, and he experienced the pure evil of some of the most twisted villains in comic history. To pile it on, Batman discovered the seemingly limitless and unchecked powers in beings like Superman who could theoretically exert their will over all of humanity.
I already mentioned the contingency plans Bruce kept for each of his Justice League-mates in Part 1, but we also saw a newer incarnation of such a plan in the recent Batman “Endgame” arc. When the Joker sends an infected Justice League to take down Batman, he activates plan “Fenrir,” which amounts to ridiculously expensive robot armor equipped with specialized weapons to take out each of the League’s members. (Which is badass until you read Batman taking down Superman with kryptonite-laced bubble gum.)
We often see Batman eventually trusting his teammates, especially once he has no other choice, but it’s certainly not a default setting for Bruce. Perhaps the person Bats trusts most in the world is Alfred Pennyworth, longtime butler-in-residence at Wayne Manor. I could not find any instances in which Bruce outright lies or doesn’t tell Alfred the entire truth. I suppose that’s expected given that Alfred practically became Bruce’s father after the death of the boy’s parents. It’s extremely lucky that Alfred also happens to be a mechanic, combat medic, mentor, and all-around badass.
Digression to admire Alfred’s kickass-ness complete, I return to the fact that no one else truly holds Bruce Wayne’s complete trust. To those unfortunate characters, he has lied, plotted against, and even actively fought. Some may argue that trust is a separate issue (“trust but verify” and all that), but tell that to the Bat Family when they found themselves being hunted by the Joker.
Secrecy and deceit foment distrust, and according to the Army Field Manual (FM) on Leader Development, FM 6-22, effective leaders must develop mutual trust in order to build a cohesive team. Sure it’s important to have a mentor or someone you can rely on no matter what happens, but that doesn’t mean you should hold everyone else at arms length. It’s never a bad technique to assume, at least initially, that members of your team have positive intent. As a leader, harness that intent and shape performance.
4) Operating Outside of the Law
One of my favorite lines in the new movie Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice comes when Bruce Wayne remarks to his faithful butler, “We’re criminals, Alfred. We’ve always been criminals.” Despite the “healthy respect for the criminal justice system” I mention in Part 1, the fact remains that The Bat operates outside of the law as a vigilante who uses violence and fear (among other methods) to punish wrongdoers.
I recently discovered an amazing blog called Law and the Multiverse in which an actual attorney tackles “the hypothetical legal ramifications of comic book tropes, characters, and powers.” A recent post titled “Batman and the Constitution: How can the Gotham D.A. convict criminals captured by Batman?” is a brilliant look at how the Guardian of Gotham’s actions might actually hold up in a court of law. Of relevance, however, is this line: “this is not to say that Batman himself is not potentially criminally and civilly liable for his actions.” In other words, even if the GCPD and DA’s office figure out how to successfully prosecute criminals that Batman brings to them, Bats himself is not free and clear of wrongdoing.
As many have recently discussed the war crime implications of comments made by GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump, the moral and legal deliberations that military leaders invest in their decisions must never conclude on the wrong side of the law. Any leader, military or otherwise, must strive to uphold the law and always maintain good ethics. Batman’s ends don’t always justify his means, but he is, after all, a work of fiction. Check the unlawful vigilantism as the door.
A mentor once told me that the Army gives you two cargo pockets. Take the things you see that are good and put them in one pocket. Take the things you see that are bad and put them in the other. In this case, maybe I could translate that analogy to a utility belt, but we all know there are far more than two pockets on Batman’s belt.
Batman isn’t real, but his varied display of both positive and negative leadership characteristics is a near-accurate depiction of real world leaders. The point is, learn from all the experiences you have with the leaders under whom you serve, good and bad.
Of course, I’m not the first person to try and glean leadership lessons from the World’s Greatest Detective. Here’s a sampling of some of the Batman lessons learned as gathered by other writers across the interwebs:
- 5 Enduring Leadership Qualities Learned From Batman
- Five Leadership Lessons From Christopher Nolan’s Batman Trilogy
- Leadership Lessons from the Dark Knight Pt 1
- Batman and Non-Fiction Leadership
- Leadership Lessons from Batman
- Leadership Lessons from… Batman
- 11 Leadership Lessons from Nolan’s Batman Trilogy
- Reddit Thread: “How would you say Batman is a leader?”
- Just for fun: 5 Leadership Qualities Employers Can Learn From The Joker
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