What’s Your Superpower?
Apr 15, 2016
One of the things I love most about facilitating leadership workshops and retreats is giving people an opportunity to look at themselves with appreciative eyes. When we talk about our superpowers, we’re not talking about x-ray vision or leaping tall buildings, but the special strengths we bring to our teams; qualities of character or personality we too often shrug off.
At a recent workshop with a senior leadership team, I asked them what they liked best about their jobs. One of the physicians said he really enjoyed the psycho-social aspects of working in hospice – of having time to talk to patients and families, and engage with them in a deeper, more meaningful way. Another team member who worked in quality control talked about how inspiring she found the compassion and professionalism the nurses, social workers, and aides bring to their jobs every day.
Then we dug into our superpowers. The CEO said she loved being the visionary; being able to look down the road far ahead of where anyone yet was, and helping her staff see what it will take to get there. Sharing her excitement about what she sees ahead is a big part of what she loves about her work.
It wasn’t what you’d expect to hear from a CFO, but when asked about his superpowers, he told us his was his passion for his employees, and being a good listener. Another executive said hers was being a curious learner. One of my favorites was the Chief Clinical Officer, who said her superpower was being able to think backwards. The marketing person said her superpower was being really good at cocktail conversation; the fundraiser said his was expressing gratitude.
Having people acknowledge the things they do well is important in the function and leadership of an organization. It takes the work of many superheroes to overcome adversity: If that visionary CEO didn’t have people around her with their feet on the ground, there would be no one to determine how to operate in the present.
I remember my first encounter with a similar exercise in graduate school. I could not for the life of me think of what my own superpower might be. A friend said, “You’re really good at making people feel great about themselves.” That didn’t seem like much of a power to me. Years later, I was talking to my mom, who in her eighties was still working as a hairdresser in Florida. She couldn’t stop working, she said, because people always requested her – even the snowbirds that had been away for a year. She couldn’t imagine why – except that she had a knack for remembering little things about them; that their granddaughter was about to finish college, or that their son was getting married – because mom was genuinely interested in them as people not just as clients.
Listening to her, I realized my friend had been right – and that I owed my superpower to my mom. Helping others to recognize how important and valued they are is a joy for me and it's is my superpower, as it was hers. How lucky I am that it’s also my work.
Image Above: Patti's mom Ruth at work