6 Secret Weapons To Supervise Like A Superhero

May 22, 2017 •  4 minute read • by Saeed


“With great power comes great responsibility” – Voltaire and Uncle Ben from the Spider-Man comic books.

First off, I am by no means suggesting that you should wear tights and a cape to work. Unless you want to of course, in which case I would suggest checking the employee manual beforehand for appropriate dress code at your workplace.

That aside, this post is about developing your core supervision muscles. By making the following list of practices second-nature and part of a daily habit, the people you work with will come to know that when they’re in trouble, they can rely on you to save the day.

Let’s dive in.

Secret Weapon #1: Stand On Top of Skyscrapers

Not literally of course. The English verb “supervision” is derived from the two Latin words “super” (above) and “videre” (see, observe). To supervise, in other words, means having a birds-eye-view. It means not being shackled down by a narrow perspective. Superman literally had super-vision. When superheroes are faced with a conflict or difficult decision, you often find them on top of a skyscraper contemplating their next move. In the same way, try gaining a balcony view of the issue at hand so you can make a better decision. Learn to step outside of the pool where everyone else is drowning and look at things from a different vantage point. The new perspective will help you make a better decision.

Secret Weapon #2: Build a Shied of Self-Knowledge and Self-Management

If you can’t manage yourself, you have no business managing others. Being able to reflect on who you are and to contemplate your own behavior is the source of great achievement. It can also be the source of many pitfalls. Taking things too personally, being overly self critical, or mistrusting your own instincts are all possible side effects of too much inward turning. These self defeating tendencies can have a huge impact on how well you function at work.

Neophyte supervisors tend to feel insecure and even attacked when people disagree with them or criticize their approach. If you feel that your co-workers are constantly “shooting you down” and think that the subtext of many of your conversations with them shows that they are right and you are wrong – you may be struggling with defensiveness. Don’t be defensive! Be proactive instead. Use consistent and assertive communication skills and be clear about tasks, goals, and objectives you set for your team. Check in regularly to make sure expectations are managed accordingly. Manage yourself better and your team will manage themselves better.

Secret Weapon #3: Don’t Mask Your Identity

Thick masks and helmets limit the superhero’s peripheral vision and the ability to connect authentically with people. That is why superheroes have an alter ego (think Clark Kent, Peter Parker, Bruce Wayne). Most supervisors are inadequately trained for their role and are only in it because of consecutive promotions (in some superhero comics, the reluctant hero is conscripted into saving the world by some kind of sinister secret agency).

Moreover, many supervisors are subject to pressures from above and below (middle management trap) and come into the battlefield with their own vulnerabilities. To compensate, they may pretend to be something they are not. Regardless, the nature of the supervisory encounter is rife with power and authority. Each party brings to it their personal (Diana) and professional (Wonder Woman) identities, knowledge, skills, beliefs, worldviews and the impact of life experiences.

Start with understanding your supervision style. Know and understand how your style fits with that of your team members. In my experience, when these relationships are collaborative, transparent and open to constructive input, both parties benefit. The supervisory relationship should be a collaborative one centered around mutual respect and a shared agenda: We all want to save Gotham City. Doing so means working together.

Weapon #4: Embrace What Makes You Different

Embracing what makes you different, is exactly what Steve Jobs did to spectacular success. Every superhero has a special set of skills that makes them different than the next. That’s what makes the Justice League a superior force against global villainy. Jobs had a notorious ability to be focused. He complimented it with an embrace of Zen Philosophy and simplicity.

He also dared to be different and had a dogged self-belief that pushed him through difficult times. As a superhero or supervisor, you must be able to bounce back quickly from defeat. Wolverine is the most famous superhero with a healing power that allows him to recover from injuries, but lots of other heroes have this, including Deadpool and the Hulk. Cultivating this ‘power’ is paramount to success as a leader. It is the very definition of resiliency.

Secret Weapon #5: Know Your Strengths and Know Your Weaknesses

Superheroes understand their strengths and weaknesses.  Even though their weaknesses can sometimes be complicated (like radioactive fragments of their home planets), more often than not, they are super obvious: easily overwhelmed senses, an unprotected face or an unwieldy cape . You may think your weaknesses are hidden from view by your protective armor but don’t be surprised to find that people can see right through you.

Superheroes plan around their weaknesses. They augment their strengths through learning and adaption.

There are actually two types of strengths – the known (realized) and the unknown(unrealized). Your known powers will almost always come without any difficulties or inconveniences. The unknown powers however only come when you are truly tested.

To be super, means being able to harness both. Theodore Roosevelt had a famous quote admiring those in the ‘arena’ of life who are “willing to be marred by dust and sweat and blood.” You have to be in the arena and be tested to know all of your strengths. So, don’t be afraid of making mistakes as a first time supervisor. Face fears. Practice perseverance. Reinforce resilience.

Secret Weapon #6: Inspire and Motivate Your People

Superheroes are inspiring because they are role models of integrity, trust, perseverance, resilience, and justice. They are incorruptible but they are not infallible. Their vulnerability coupled with the ability to overcome it, also serves to inspire us. Motivation is the combination of desire, values, and beliefs that drives you to take action. These three motivating factors are at the root of why people behave the way they do. Because you ultimately control your values, beliefs, and desires, you can influence your motivations. This means, if you consider something important and assign value to it, you are more likely to do the work it takes to attain the goal. When motivation originates from an internal source and is combined with a realistic goal and circumstance, the odds of a good outcome are greatly increased.

Superheroes have a universal appeal because they inspire us to greater heights. We need heroes – super and otherwise – because they are merely a reflection of our deeply human desire for a better self.

Up, up and away!

©2017 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A.

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Last thing, if you liked this post, consider checking out my other recent posts for inspiration and concrete actions steps to become more effective at work and life.

Best,

Saeed

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