Superheroic Leadership Vol. 1 No. 20 – Wrap Up

Superheroic Leadership Vol. I * No. 20

Wrap Up

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


Today marks the final edition of Superheroic Leadership. Hopefully,  you have enjoyed some of the reflections here…  and please revisit any you wish below!

in the fall of 2018, Superheroic Leadership gives way to A Journal of the First Year which will contain stories from my first year as a principal of a high school. 

Superheroic Leadership Vol. 1 No. 19 – Favorite Fictional Teachers

Superheroic Leadership Vol. I * No. 19

Favorite Fictional Teachers

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


During this Teacher Appreciation Week 2018, it seems appropriate that I revisit my personal list of the best fictional teachers.

Here goes!

Obi Wan Kenobi and Yoda are awarded this distinction for their ability to inspire students to come to the truth, their connection to an inspirational greater power, their commitment to teaching (even if they have to sacrifice their lives for it), their wise sayings, their ability to DO and not just teach, their skill with their chosen tools, and their dedication to dealing with even the most complaining and petulant students (i.e. Anakin and Luke Skywalker!)

Ralph Hanley (the Greatest American Hero) is awarded this distinction for his ability to keep his students out of trouble while saving the world, his balancing of the life of a superhero and a teacher, his ability to walk on air, his understanding that one person can make a difference … believe it or not, it’s just him. You know you want to hear it… click HERE for the Mike Post theme song! Oh, and a quick bit of trivia… Ralph Hanley’s name was originally Ralph Hinkley, but that surname was changed after the attempt on President Reagan’s life by John Hinkley, jr.

Ms. Norbury (from Mean Girls) is awarded this distinction for her sweet sarcasm, her being the best of a bad crop of educators, her love of a well-turned phrase, her pusher-ness – she pushes people – and her incredible likeness to Liz Lemon.

Professor Charles Xavier (of The X-Men)is awarded this distinction for his intelligence, his supernatural power to know what people are thinking, his love of the marginalized, his ability to “push” people to do what is best, his living of a full life while differently abled and his beautiful dome.

Laura Roslin (of Battlestar Galatica) is awarded this distinction for her faith in adversity – a quality all good teachers possess, her courage under extreme circumstances, her ability to inspire loyalty and confidence in others, her career track (teacher to Secretary of Education to President of the Colonies – though this last step took the rest of the Cabinet being obliterated by the Cylons and her standing with a fist. So say we all..

Professor Ross Geller (one of our best Friends) is awarded this distinction for his undying commitment to his subject matter, his desire to educate all around him, no matter how much they don’t want to learn, his enthusiasm in all circumstances, his never-say-die attitude (he gets fired from positions and keeps coming back), his thumbing his nose at rules by dating his students, and, never forget that… he’ll be there for us.

Professor Henry Jones, jr. is awarded this distinction for making education exciting, his practical, real world application of his subject matter, his dislike of reptiles, his ability to survive every calamity including nuclear explosions and Shia LaBeouf, his battling evil – like the Nazis, and not his years, but his mileage.

Jane Eyre is awarded this distinction for her courage under fire, her devotion to her studies and her pupils, her overcoming impossible odds, her passionate love, and her fleeing of her relatives.

Mrs. Nelson (you heard Mrs. Nelson Is Missing, right!?!) is awarded this distinction for the fact that she knows how to illustrate to her students to be careful what they wish for… Enough. Said. I hate it when she’s missing…

My favorite is Mr. Glen Holland (from Mr. Holland’s Opus) who is awarded this distinction for surprising himself by finding a life in education, for teaching his students as much about life as about music, for making good choices even in the face of temptation, for reaching out to those in need, for inspiring his students, for finding his compass and being one of mine.

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. 17 – 1000 Reasons

Superheroic Leadership Vol. I * No. 17

1000 Reasons

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


In the last installment of Superheroic Leadership, I wrote about Superman and the classic story “For the Man Who Has Everything.” Perhaps I should have waited to write about the Man of Steel for this week’s Superheroic Leadership.

Seven days from tomorrow, something fairly extraordinary will happen: DC Comics will publish the 1000th issue of Action Comics. Not many comic books (or other periodicals for that matter) reach 1000 issues. Not many superheroes have been featured in 1000 issues of the same comic (though, to be fair, Superman didn’t appear in every issue of Action Comics, but he did in the overwhelming majority of them – like 900 issues or more). Reaching 1000 issues is something of an achievement.

As a self-proclaimed expert in the American artform of comic books, I have much to say about this. I could probably go on for 1000 reasons on Superman, the reason he is the most important character in comic books and, perhaps (don’t get me started!) the most influential character in all of American literature. He must be in the top ten on any serious list.

How many other characters have been in continuous publication for over 80 years?

Think about that. I’ll wait for you.

You got it. The answer is none. A goose egg. Only Superman can claim that mantle and it must mean something, right?

For the purposes of this post, let us start and end with this lesson that Superman teaches time-and-again: one must persevere.

Perhaps Superman’s dedication to the “never ending battle” is best understood as a reflection on the dogged effort of Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster, his creators. Siegel and Shuster, the sons of immigrants, worked tirelessly on Superman, hoping to make some money by selling him as a daily newspaper strip. Following mountains of rejections, they, reluctantly, turned their brain-child into a comic book. Once Superman sold (his first appearance was Action Comics #1), they would see some of their dreams come true though they would never realize the riches that were, likely due them.

What their story can tell us, though, and what the overwhelming majority of the subsequent Superman stories tells us is that we should never give up, never give in, never give way when the stakes are high.

It this a simple message?

Yes.

Is Superman a simple character?

Yes.

Perhaps the elegant and inspiring simplicity is why he has been around so long.

One could do much worse …

Superheroic Leadership Vol. 1 No. 16 – Who Has Everything

Superheroic Leadership Vol. I * No. 16

Who Has Everything

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


What do you give Superman for his birthday? Is he not the quintessential “man who has everything?”

This was the premise of the seminal Superman Annual #11 (“For the Man Who Has Everything”) written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons in the midst of their Watchmen fame. Batman and Wonder Woman (and Robin?) come to Superman’s Fortress of Solitude to share with him the birthday gifts they have brought only to find that he is in the thrall of some kind of alien plant life that has rendered him comatose. In his mind, Superman is living a reality that places him on a not-destroyed Krypton with a wife and son and parents and a life very different from the one he is living on Earth. In order to come back to reality, Superman must give up this perfect and fulfilling fantasy and return to the real world.

The “gift,” as it turns out, was sent by an intergalactic villain named Mongul whose plan for conquering the Earth includes sidelining the Man of Steel with this hallucination.

Of course, the plan does not work. Superman gives up paradise to save the Earth, not unlike Captain Kirk saving the future by allowing Edith Keeler to die in the classic City on the Edge of Forever. It is a tragic story, but a heroic one.

What does it mean for us as leaders?

All too often we can find ourselves trapped in perfect worlds, in scenarios which are comfortable and do not challenge us, whether they are of our own making or not. We can find ourselves in echo chambers in which we only hear what we want to hear, only experience what we allow ourselves to experience, only risk what we want to risk.

This is no way to lead.

Excellent leaders, like Superman, break the bonds of contentment and complacency and sacrifice their comfort for the good of others. If we are not willing to do that, we ought not be leaders. If we are not willing to question our own comfortable lives, we cannot effectively lead.

Superheroic Leadership Vol. 1 No. 15 – You Will Return

Superheroic Leadership Vol. I * No. 15

You Will Return

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


Inevitably in our leadership journeys, we face setbacks. When we put our weight and our capital behind decisions or programs or choices and they – for whatever reason – do not pan out or proceed in the manner in which we expected, we can feel defeated and consider not returning to the particular field of battle in which we have just suffered defeat.

That is simply human nature.

In an arc of what is the most under-rated Star Trek incarnation of all Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, the commander of the eponymous Deep Space Nine space station is forced to abandon the outpost, taking the Federation presence with him seemingly never to return. Defeated by the Cardassians, Captain Sisko leaves his office, his station and his post.

But he leaves his prize baseball behind for his successor to discover and to puzzle over.

The message is clear: I may be gone now, but I will be back.

This is a terrific message for leaders. We will fail. We will invest ourselves in situations that do not pan out. We will be defeated.

But we will be back.

If we will not, perhaps we were not great leaders in the first place

Superheroic Leadership Vol. 1 No. 14 – X Marks the Spot

Superheroic Leadership Vol. I * No. 14

X Marks the Spot

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


When they were first created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the X-Men were intended to do one thing: sell comic books. Lee had something of a knack for uncovering trends in teenage interest and he and Kirby set to work creating a book that might appeal. They threw together four teenage outsiders, each feeling that they were alone in the world, each possessed of a power they could not control or understand and put them under the tutelage of wheelchair bound Professor Xavier, a mutant himself – just like his students.

The key was, these people had powers that were inborn, powers they may or may not have wanted, powers that made them different though they looked like everyone else.

While this was relatively ground-breaking stuff, what really set X-Men apart, almost right away, was the meta-textual resonance the series had.

X-Men premiered in 1963 to a country that was gripped by the civil rights struggle. In this issue, Professor Xavier preached that mutant kind – himself, his students and others like them – must peacefully co-exist with the rest of the world and that by showing the rest of the world that there was nothing to fear from them – from those who were different, they would win the world to their side. Introduced in that issue as well was Magneto, another mutant. His philosophies were more combative than those of Xavier. He believed that the only way mutants would be accepted is if they forced their acceptance on a world that feared and hated them.

In the time of Martin Luther King, Jr and Malcom X, these philosophies sounded very familiar, indeed.

In later years (and, famously, in the movie X-Men 2), the plight of mutants, who looked just like everyone else but were different in some fundamental fashion and in a manner not of their choosing or control, was sometimes employed as a symbol for homosexuality. In X-Men 2, Ice Man Bobby Drake decides to tell his parents he is a mutant and the believe he is coming out to them. It is a poignant moment.

X-Men was not an immediate hit but has ever had cultural resonance and relevance.

Comics aren’t just for kids. Pass it on…

Superheroic Leadership Vol. 1 No. 13 – Power and Responsibility

Superheroic Leadership Vol. I * No. 13

Power and Responsibility

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


If you have seen a Spider-Man (and, yes, the use of the hyphen is correct!) movie, then you are likely to be familiar with this mantra: “With great power comes great responsibility.”

Peter Parker’s uncle Ben shared this nugget of wisdom with his young nephew shortly before the old man met his fate – a fate (in an ironic twist of fate) Peter could have prevented.

Ben did not know his nephew was endowed with super powers. He did not know that his nephew would, eventually, become one of the most recognizable superheroes in the world. What he did know is that people have power. They have power to affect change.

His challenge to Peter is to use his power – whatever power he has – for good. He reminds him that, to do nothing when you can do something, is wrong. If one possesses the power to act for the good of others, they should.

What a message this is to all of us. Of the many, many messages that comic books and super hero movies and pop culture conveys, this is one of my favorites because it is simple and it is powerful.

If you have blessings, use them.

If you have power, exercise it for good.

If you are privileged, you have responsibilities.

Follow them.

Follow Spider-Man.

There are worse role models…

 

Superheroic Leadership Vol. 1 No. 11 – Spock Knows His Ship

Superheroic Leadership Vol. I * No. 11

Spock Know His Ship

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


Today would have been my father’s birthday. He was not a huge science fiction fan, but, much like the Spock I write about below, Dad knew his systems and how to fix them!

People can (and do!) argue about which of the 12 Star Trek movies is the best.

For my credits (there’s no money in Star Trek), Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan leads the list. It has everything a movie could want: engaging action, compelling themes, wonderful humor, desperate circumstances, traumatic deaths, promises of resurrection. The Wrath of Khan is a great movie.

Beyond those things, it does something amazing for a character audiences have known for over 50 years: it makes him all the more impressive and inspiring.

Here is the deal: as the villain Khan stands on the precipice of his final revenge on Admiral (“Admiral?!? Admiral? Admiral.”) Kirk and the crew of the Starship Enterprise, Captain Spock springs into action, repairs the ship and sacrifices himself in the process.

What I note about this scene (and about the re-visioned version in JJ Abrams’ Star Trek Into Darkness which places Kirk in Spock situation of Wrath of Khan) is that Spock (and Kirk) know the Enterprise inside-and-out. They know which systems are broken and how to fix them. They can feel the ship dropping out of warp. They understand when something is wrong with her.

These are leadership qualities those of us who identify as leaders should aspire to have: that we know our systems so well we can attend to those that are misfiring or not in alignment or not working well, that we understand our surroundings to such an extent that we are not intimidated by issues or problems, that we can confidently look at the totality of our work and say, “yes, I can handle that.”

Spock’s sacrifice is, perhaps, the most powerful Star Trek scene ever filmed.

It is also a powerful example of what it takes to lead.