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.

Superheroic Leadership Vol. 1 No. 10 – Where No Man Will Go

Superheroic Leadership Vol. I * No. 10

Where No Man Will Go

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


There were many cultural touchpoints to which to pay attention in 2017. In pop culture, one would be hard pressed to argue that the appearance of Wonder Woman and her rocketing to mass awareness was not one of them.

In what was, perhaps, the most talked about scene in her eponymous film, Wonder Woman is ensconced in a trench at the edge of No Man’s Land during a World War One battle. She is torn. She is pained. She is trying to understand the reasons why none of the soldiers with whom she is traveling are willing to take the field and protect the city on the other side of the battlefield separating the warring factions.

She is a princess of peace. She is a warrior of hope. She is distraught by what she sees.

And she acts.

She crosses the wasteland. She protects the people. She overcomes the odds.

Do we not yearn for leaders who recognize when impossible odds must be confronted? Do we not want leaders who are willing to risk everything for a greater cause? Do we not need leaders to lead us where our better selves might be too frightened to travel?

In this scene, Wonder Woman becomes a hero for all ages, all genders, all people. She becomes a symbol of hope, a beacon of truth and a lesson to learn.

Yes, this is fiction. Yes, in this context, she has powers to protect her. Yes, this is fantasy.

But we can lead into the teeth of danger – whatever the danger may be. We can confront impossible odds. We can do what is right.

And we must.

Superheroic Leadership Vol. 1 FIRST SEMESTER WRAP UP

Superheroic Leadership Vol. I * FIRST SEMESTER WRAP UP

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.


The next post of Superheroic Leadership will be published on January 4, 2018

Here are the posts from this semester of Superheroic Leadership and the initial rationale for the project:

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!

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. 8 – Let Go of Your Conscious Self

Superheroic Leadership Vol. I * No. 8

Let Go of Your Conscious Self

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


No matter how leadership is considered, I believe there is a truth which is difficult to avoid: good leaders are different. They are born with… something. They have… IT.

While individuals can grow in their leadership and skills of management and leadership can be learned, the good ones – the best ones – simply shine as leaders. When they enter a room, people look to them and say “show me the wall and I’ll run through it.”

This is Superheroic Leadership, so let us try something. Of these pairs, who would you follow:

Captain America or Iron Man

Batman or Superman

Captain Kirk or Mr. Spock

Black Widow or Wonder Woman

Frodo Baggins or Samwise Gamgee

Ron Weasley or Hermione Granger

While you may have had to think through a couple of these, my guess is your list went something like this: Cap, Superman, Kirk, Wonder Woman, Frodo and Hermione.

Why is that? The other characters are great, too (and I bet there are a few differences in your choices and mine) but they just do not project leader the way the others do.

Great leaders are born with something. They are born with a leadership instinct that they learn to trust and that they are careful to develop. Great leaders are able to react to challenging situations quickly, to lead others to the right paths, to get out of danger because they do not overthink things. They trust their instincts.

Leadership skills can be taught but great instincts for leadership seem much more inherent to me.

Let us leave it to Obi Wan Kenobi (and we can with many leadership concepts … except that of telling the truth, but that is another subject for another blog!).

 

Superheroic Leadership Vol. 1 No. 6 – Leading from Your Gut

Superheroic Leadership Vol. I * No. 6

Leading from Your Gut

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


The recent reboot of Star Trek (not Star Trek Discovery, but the JJ Abrams produced films) has dived fans. Some embraced it, some disdained it. There were few fans in between.

Put me very much in the embraced it camp. I think it is a terrific update, built for modern sensibilities, that pays significant and appropriate attention to the source material. I think it is full of energy and fun.

And I love the cast, especially Chris Pine as Captain Kirk.

Here is a Kirk who is learning, who is not fully formed, who is finding his way. How cool is that?

In the second (and most divisive) film in the trilogy, Star Trek Into Darkness, Kirk is faced with the realization that he is not as well suited for his leadership role – his captaincy of the Enterprise – as he had believed. He is overcome by fear and doubt and he is confused about what to do next. And he does what most of us do in situations like this: he defaults to his strength.

His instincts.

Throughout his career, Kirk has trusted his instincts. He has relied on his gut feelings. He has banked on the fact that his sixth sense will not let him down.

At times in our leadership journeys, no matter our preference for facing challenges and making decisions, we will be forced stripped down, we will be in the moment, we will be forced to rely on instinct.

And that is okay. If we are good leaders, part of the reason why we are is that our guts and instincts have led us to be. Sometimes, we have to trust them. Sometimes, logic is not enough.

Sometimes, it’s a gut feeling.

And that is okay.

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. 4 – Take the Short Way Home… It’s Not the Years, It’s the Mileage

Superheroic Leadership Vol. I * No. 4

Take the Short Way Home… It’s Not the Years, It’s the Mileage

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


Let us put this moment in context. Indiana Jones is racing against time to find the Ark of the Covenant before it can be delivered to Hitler and the Nazis. World War II is brewing. The Allies are good. Nazis are bad. There are decidedly not “some very fine people” among them.

The stakes are life and death.

The work of being a leader is rarely life and death, though it can be. Typically, leaders can arrive at decisions in reasoned and calm fashion, weighing fact and opinions, judging options, making determinations. Leaders often have time in which to lead and space from which to do it.

And those around leaders have opinions. They have suggestions. They have plans of their own, facts and theories and recommendations.

And they should. None of that is bad.

However, there are times when what surrounds decision-making, what encompasses leadership, what slows down the process is too much information, too copious opinions, too many cooks.

Sometimes a leader must simply cut through what is unimportant and superfluous.

Sometimes a leader recognizes that what is happening is distraction and needs to be stopped so a decision can be reached and action can be taken. Being decisive is not always easy. Sometimes there are costs. But leaders know when to act.

Which brings us back to Indiana Jones. World War II. Nazis. Evil.

And a leader who knows what needs to be done.

Read the following as metaphor… and cut through the red tape. Make decisions. Take action.

Superheroic Leadership Vol. 1 No. 3 – All the World’s Waiting for You

Superheroic Leadership Vol. I * No. 3

All the World’s Waiting for You

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


It is very difficult to remember that, before Wonder Woman was released this past summer, the movie was considered something of a gamble. I will not delve too deeply into the sociological impacts of these concerns, but they were clearly related to the fact that films starring women in lead roles and films directed by women simply do not draw wide audiences. Add to this the fact that superhero movies have been specifically designed to feature men and one can understand that concerns.

They were for naught.

Wonder Woman became the hit of the summer, grossing more than any other film and becoming one of the biggest hits Warner Bros has ever had.

Very cool.

But let us not lose the thread here: the character has an over 75 year publishing history, is one of the most recognizable characters in the world and, most importantly, stands for something.

Wonder Woman’s roots are in peace. She is a character designed to bring peace. And, as imagined in the movie, she also brings joy.

This was an amazing film. It presented a character – a woman – who is powerful, intelligent and strong. She is the driving force of the movie and she is devastated by her perception that humanity does not want to be better, to be joyful, to be peaceful. She is terrified by the idea that people wallow in their situations without being thankful, without being grateful, without being joyful.

And, when she is about to turn away from that society, when she is faced with the reality, she chooses instead to overcome her preconceptions and to fight for justice and peace.

What is amazing about this is that, in the hands of a lesser director than Patty Jenkins and a lesser actor than Gal Gadot, this could all seem naïve and silly.

It does not.

Wonder Woman stands as a reminder that we can see the world in a positive light. We can look up to strong, confident women. We can strive for peace.

What an inspiring message to this world at this time.

And, if you want to smile, give the below a listen!

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.