I've been asked, why use Superheroes and other fictional characters when talking about real-world issues like workplace effectiveness and team building. I love answering this question:
#1) To Promote Growth: Merriam Webster Online offers two definitions for Superhero: a) a fictional character with extraordinary or superhuman powers; and b) an exceptionally skillful or successful person.
There is no requirement in this definition that a person needs to be able to break the laws of physics to be considered a superhero. You don’t need to be able to fly. You don’t need to be able to bend space/time. You just need to find ways to be exceptional, which is something each of us can achieve.
#2) Help People to Deal with Weaknesses: Even Superman has weaknesses. Using a comic book metaphor for weakness, kryptonite, and showing that a nearly perfect character can still fall short, can reduce the sense of immediate threat when addressing our own shortcomings. It can also help us to keep an eye out for the weaknesses of employees whose flashier strengths already seem almost supernatural until they fall short.
#3) It makes Professional Development Fun
Here are a few examples of how we can re-image everyday strengths to better appreciate our contributions as well as our colleagues, and to keep an eye out for possible kryptonites.
Looking for natural, everyday exceptional qualities can help to highlight the workstyles of the unsung heroes of the workplace.
Unsung Workplace Heroes
Super Strengths: Loyalty, Dependability, Protection, Perseverance
Kryptonites: Difficulty adapting to change and standing up for their own needs when in conflict with the needs of others.
At work this may show itself as the quiet anticipation, and carrying out, of whatever needs to be done to keep everyone happy and/or safe.They may get overlooked because they are often the folks that keep the system running day after day without fanfare.
Tony Stark: Iron Man
Super Strengths: Creativity, Speed, Agility,
Kryptonites: Boredom can come quickly and easily, especially with routine. May get caught up in a new exciting project before dotting all the i’s and t’s on the old one.
They excel in openness to new ideas, involvement in multiple projects (even when not asked), and the ability to speak off the cuff on a variety of topics of interest. They probably won't get overlooked, but are often evaluated poorly in workplaces where routine is highly valued and suggestions for improvement of old methods are considered “rocking the boat.”
Frequently Perceived Workplace Heroes
This person is logical and action oriented. They are socially outgoing and tirelessly work towards their goals often getting others to join the mission. The nickname given to this preference combination is The General.
Super Strengths: Focus, Control, Strength, Leadership
Kryptonites: They can move too quickly towards immediate action before considering bigger picture consequences. They might not handle resistance or non-compliance well.