Superheroic Leadership Vol. 1 No. 18 – Avengers Forever!

Superheroic Leadership Vol. I * No. 18

Avengers Forever!

Superheroic Leadership is a light-hearted examination of what superheroic figures have to teach about leadership and what I have learned from their adventures.


This past week, acclaimed director James Cameron opined about the upcoming film Avengers: Infinity War “I’m hoping we’ll start getting Avenger fatigue here pretty soon. Not that I don’t love the movies. It’s just, come on guys, there are other stories to tell.” Perhaps he is correct. Perhaps a break in the two-to-three Avengers movie a year cycle would serve the movie creating and going public well.

Perhaps. But, well, no. Sorry, Mr. Cameron. I think you are missing the point here.

If you have read even one of these Superheroic Leadership blogs, you know that I do not agree with Cameron on this count. Bring it on, I say. Give me more quality superhero films. Give me more Avengers movies. Give me more stories of people united by faith fighting for a higher cause.

I have not yet seen Avengers: Infinity War. If you are reading this blog the day it is published (Thursday, April 26), rest assured that problem will be corrected by this evening. Since the movie has not even opened at the time of this writing, I cannot say whether or not it is any good (I suspect it is). I cannot say whether or not I will like it (I suspect I will). I cannot say what it is about (but I can guess).

Avengers: Infinity War follows the story told in Captain America: Civil War which featured a fractured Avengers team, split down ideological and emotional lines, fighting with one another and broken apart. Clearly, the find a way to put their differences behind them and come together to battle a greater evil in the upcoming flick.

This trope has been a part of Avengers stories in the comic books going back decades. Conflict fuels narrative and comic writers have gone to the well of breaking up the team only to bring it back together many, many times. In fact, one of the most famous Avengers stories of the past 20 years was an arc entitled “Avengers: Disassembled,” a play on the “Avengers Assemble!” battle cry. The catch to this story along with all the others that have scattered the team to the four winds (including, I have no doubt, Avengers: Infinity War) is that the team always comes back together.

This, of course, is what good teams do. Banded together by a belief in common goals, a good team relies on those goals and their mission to unite them. They may not always agree. They may not always see eye-to-eye. They may fight among themselves. They may even break apart, for a time. But good teams come back together. They work through disagreement. They find common ground in the truths that bind them.

Perhaps the Avengers have something to teach us about disagreement and resolution…

Avengers Assemble!

Teach & Serve III, No. 36 – Look Up In The Sky

Teach & Serve III, No. 36 – Look Up In The Sky

April 18, 2018

The question, then, must be why? Why has Superman remained part of American (and world) consciousness for all these years? Why do we still look up in the sky?

When I was in the first grade, the day before school picture day, I ran into a brick wall – not a metaphor, I, literally, ran headlong into the corner of our house, smashing open my head on solid brick. My father took me to get stitches – seven of them as I recall – and, on the way home, changed my life.

My father was forever changing my life.

He bought me my first two comic books.

Thanks, Dad. Tens of thousands of issues later, I am pot-committed as a comic collector. More important than that, I have become more than an aficionado of comic book collecting and consider myself something of an expert on the study of comic books as an American literary art form.

You read that right: comic books are a form a literature.

The two comics Dad bought me that day featured two of the most famous American literary characters (in any list, they would have to be listed in the top ten): Batman and Superman. In case you’re wondering, I still have the issues – Batman Family #10 and Superman Family #181.

Superman is the longest running, continually published character in American literary history. Let that sink in for a moment. No other creation of any American writer or artist has been in continual publication as long as Superman has. That is something. That is special. That is powerful.

Superman is one of the most recognizable characters in the world, any quick search will convince one of that. And, today, the comic book in which he first appeared reaches its astounding 1000th issue. That is not a typo. Superman’s Action Comics hits number 1000 today.

Superman has not simply appeared in Action Comics, of course. He has starred in his eponymous title and in many, many others. He has starred in a newspaper strip, in radio and television and movies. He has been featured in video games and music and cartoons. He is all but ubiquitous.

The question, then, must be why? Why has Superman remained part of American (and world) consciousness for all these years? Why do we still look up in the sky?

One could discuss Superman as a myth or as the genesis of the superhero or as a stand in for Moses or Jesus Christ. These reasons could be posited as causes for his longevity and I would not argue with them. But I have another.

Superman endures because what he stands for endures. Superman fights a never-ending battle. It is a battle of absolutes. There is good. There is evil. Good people resist evil. They resist temptation. They resist taking the easy way out. Superman stands for all that has been good, is good and can be good again in humanity. Superman, as he beautifully says in the majestic and (in my not-so-humble opinion) misunderstood 2013 film Man of Steel, stands for hope.

He would have made a wonderful educator, this Superman, this hero who fights a never-ending battle, who does not give up, who is a champion of truth. He would have been an amazing teacher, a role model who has endless reserves, who rallies in the face of injustice, who empowers those around him. He would have been a inspiration in a classroom.

Oh, wait. He very much is.

Superman, as I have written about before and in my accompanying blog Superheroic Leadership, inspired me. He inspired me to read. He inspired me, “in his guise as Clark Kent” to write. He inspired me to lead.

Clearly, I am not alone.

1000 issues. 80 years. A massive and recognizable presence in the world.

I guess that is why they call him Superman.

I know this: my life would be much, much different without him.

Superheroic Leadership Vol. 1 No. 9 – Jedi Hubris

Superheroic Leadership Vol. I * No. 9

Jedi Hubris

Superheroic Leadership is a light-hearted examination of what superheroic figures have to teach about leadership and what I have learned from their adventures.


I know more than I want to know about The Last Jedi. When you run in the circles in which I run, information about upcoming movies is hard to avoid. I have been in a media blackout for over a month on this film and I still know too much!

But there is one thing I know about the Jedi that I have known for a very long time. I have known this since I was a kid.

The Jedi are pompous jerks.

Seriously.

Think about it. They know all – or say they do. They claim to have access to special powers which you cannot access. They cut themselves off from personal attachments. They see the future but do not share their insights. They twist the truth to suit their needs (“what I told you was true from a certain point of view” anyone?).

And they kind of lord all this stuff over everyone with whom they interact.

Do you know any leaders like this?

Look, I like Luke and Mace and Obi Wan as much as the next geek but, come on!

The Jedi simply are not great leaders.

We learn more about leadership from them by not acting as they do.

In our leadership, a red light should flash when we feel as though we know all. We should hear warning sirens when we think we have access to things others do not and that is what makes us leaders. Likewise when we cut ourselves off from colleagues – from those we lead – we are headed down a bad road. And if we do not share all we know about what is coming in our institutions, we are more in love with the idea of leadership that we are with actually leading. Finally, when we twist the truth to influence those around us, we are on very thin ice from a prospective of effective leadership.

The Jedi are good. The Jedi are powerful. The Jedi helped save the galaxy a couple times.

But the Jedi are jerks. Hopefully we, as leaders, are not.

Superheroic Leadership Vol. 1 No. 5 – Know Your Team

Superheroic Leadership Vol. I * No. 5

Know Your Team

Superheroic Leadership is a light-hearted examination of what superheroic figures have to teach about leadership and what I have learned from their adventures.


Mark Waid is a terrific comic book writer. Wickedly intelligent, possessed of an encyclopedic knowledge of the genre, abundantly talented, Waid has written almost every main character for both DC and Marvel of which casual fans would know. He has written some amazing storylines and he has contributed to the myth of many characters.

One of those characters is Batman.

Waid wrote Justice League in the late 1990s and early 2000s and he penned some terrific stories. One of those stories, Tower of Babel, added to Batman’s reputation in an immeasurably– defining the character to this day. It made such a lasting impression, it was adapted into the DC Animated Movie Justice League: Doom.

In the story, a group of villains break into the Batcave computers and discover Batman has been creating plans to take down each-and-every member of the Justice League should that ever become necessary. The villains use these highly effective plans against the League and, though the team eventually succeeds in defeating them, the heroes look at Batman differently from that moment forward.

Art for the story was provided by the terrific Howard Porter.

Batman respects his teammates. He knows their strengths and weaknesses. He knows that they might, someday, need to be confronted and challenged. Is it incredibly cold hearted that he has devised plans – in advance – of how to deal with them if they go rouge? Of course it is, but he is Batman, after all.

The leadership lesson here is not to keep files of those you lead and know how to defeat them. You are not Batman, after all.

No, the lesson is to know those with whom you work. Know their strengths. Know their weaknesses. Know that, even if they are close colleagues – and *gasp* perhaps even friends – there may come a time when you have to confront them, challenge them, disagree with them.  There may come a time when knowing your colleagues weaknesses is an important part of your leadership and as important as knowing their strengths.

When you are a leader, developing the leadership of those around you is a critical part of the work. Knowing how to help those around you grow and overcome their weaknesses is a significant leadership tool. Additionally, knowing how not to put people into situations that will defeat them – situations that are beyond their abilities – is just as important.

Know your team. Know their capabilities. Know how to put them in the best positions to succeed.

And know you are not Batman!

Superheroic Leadership Vol. 1 No. 2 – What’s So Funny about Truth and Justice?

Superheroic Leadership Vol. I * No. 2

What’s So Funny about Truth and Justice?

Superheroic Leadership is a light-hearted examination of what superheroic figures have to teach about leadership and what I have learned from their adventures.


They say that Superman is a hard character to write. This is a common mantra among those who follow the Man of Steel. He’s too clean cut. He’s too powerful. He’s too good.

He’s boring, especially in the context of the “real world.”

In the 1990s and early 2000s, anti-heroes were all the rage, heroes who did not force themselves to adhere to moral codes, heroes who would cross any line to serve their vision of justice. The X-Men, exemplified by their banner character Wolverine, were an example of this. The Authority was a team of almost omnipotent characters who were brutal and violent and just. Even the Avengers were recharacterized in this fashion in an alternate universe book called The Ultimates.

How does Superman fit into this world?

Not well.

But Joe Kelly, Doug Mahnke and Lee Bermejo presented a story in Action Comics #775 that underscored why Superman IS Superman.

In this landmark issue, Superman is confronted by a group of “heroes” calling themselves “The Elite.” These characters kill their adversaries, relish in their power and complain that Superman is hopelessly behind the times. They blame him for all the damage caused by villains the Man of Steel has left alive, villains who inevitably escape prisons and wreak havoc on the world. They say Superman is afraid to do what is necessary to protect the world.

Staging a televised showdown with the Elite, Superman appears to unleash violence as only he can, appearing to kill each member of the team (though he secretly saves each right before their “death” using his super speed) and terrifying both the Elite and the world, illustrating the evils of violence unchecked and power uncontrolled. As only Superman can, the hero reclaims the high ground, reaffirms his commitment to his moral code and has the world cheering for him in the process.

What’s so funny about truth, justice and the American way? Nothing.

Superman stands as an example of light not giving way to darkness. He refuses to cross lines and compromise his morality. He is upstanding. He is good.

We need more of this kind of good in our world.

Superheroic Leadership Vol. 1 No. 1 – Superheroic Leadership

Superheroic Leadership Vol. I * No. I

Superheroic Leadership

Superheroic Leadership is a light-hearted examination of what superheroic figures have to teach about leadership and what I have learned from their adventures.


For as far back as my memory will take me, superheroes have been a part of the life of my imagination. I learned to read from the adventures of Batman and Spider-Man, learned to take flights of fancy with Wonder Woman and the Avengers and so many more.  And it was not just the four-color heroes I read about in the pages of comic books that were alive in my mind. The heroes of science fiction, especially characters from Star Trek and Star Wars, shared almost equal time.

Growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, I found that affection for comic books and science fiction was less cool than playing sports or collecting baseball cards and I, like many others who shared these hobbies, did not exactly broadcast my affinity for them. I know I am not alone in that feeling.

How could those of us who spoke the secret language of comics, who knew the difference between the Empire and the Klingon Empire and who debated whether Superman could lift Thor’s hammer have possibly known that these characters we embraced as kids would become culturally dominant icons? How could we have anticipated The Avengers, The Dark Knight Trilogy, The Guardians of the Galaxy and Wonder Woman?

How could we have known the power these stories would have to captivate, to entertain and, dare I write, to inspire?

For there must be something inspirational about these characters and their stories. There must be something worth watching. There must be something with depth about which to think.

I believe there is and, while there are many reasons for the enduring popularity of superheroes and science fiction characters, I believe their lasting resonance has something to do with leadership.

Superheroic Leadership is, at least in title, an homage to Chris Lowney’s terrific Heroic Leadership, wherein Lowney juxtaposes lessons about leadership in business with the lives of early Jesuits. It is a clever and instructive book, Lowney’s Heroic Leadership, and one I highly recommend.

This every-other-week series of posts will not be as clever or instructive. What it will be is a light-hearted examination of what superheroic figures have to teach about leadership and what I, perhaps only on reflection, have learned from their adventures.

There must be a reason I have spent so much time and money on and with these characters, right?

Welcome to Superheroic Leadership!

Best Teachers in Fiction

School is (or is just about to be) back in session all across the country. As things are gearing up for the 2016-2017 school year, and in anticipation of rolling out this new blog, Teach Boldly presents THE FIFTEEN BEST TEACHERS IN FICTION.


The Best Teachers in Fiction (15 – 11)

No. 15: Mr. Miyagi

Mr. Miyagi comes in at 15 for his dedication, his care of his students, his ability to push his them beyond limits both physical and mental, his understanding that good education requires balance, his desire to only want the best for his students and his most obvious bad-assery!

miyagi

No. 14: Batman

Bracketing the fact that a Robin (Jason Todd) died on his watch (does Batman get points because Jason came back to life?), one has to admit that training teenage boys to become world class crime fighters is quite an accomplishment. Batman has taken at least seven young people under his wing and taught them almost everything he knows. At the end of the day, he even loves these students as all good teachers should.

batman and robin

No. 13: John Wheelwright

The narrator of John Irving’s classic A Prayer for Owen Meany (this bloggers favorite book), John Wheelwright learns that what he loves best in life, after his friend Owen, is to read. Wanting to share the gift with others, Wheelwright becomes a teacher and a good one at that. Irving himself was a teacher and the classroom scenes he writes ring very true.

Owen Meany Cover

No. 12: Sarah Simms

In the New Teen Titans comic book and later on the television show Teen Titans Go!, fans are introduced to Sarah Simms, a young woman who dedicates her life to working with students who have suffered some kind of amputation. Written with deep compassion and care by Marv Wolfman in the comic book, Sarah comes across as dedicated, concerned and real-world. She’s a great model for teachers everywhere.

Sarah Simms

No. 11: Lydia Davis

On Fame, the incredibly dedicated and talented Ms. Davis (played brilliantly by the brilliant Debbie Allen) told her students (every week on the opening credits voice-over) “You’ve got big dreams. You want fame. Well, fame costs. And right here is where you start paying.” Her students paid. And they loved her for making them work.

Lydia Davis