You Can Be A Superhero too

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

Samwise Gamgee

Samwise Gamgee carries Frodo up an active volcano to complete their mission. 

Samwise Gamgee carries Frodo up an active volcano to complete their mission. 

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.


Malcolm Reynolds


These folks can be highly charismatic and don’t take much convincing to throw their talents and energy behind a project that they believe in. The nickname sometimes given is “The Campaigner” and they are often highly visible as they enthusiastically promote their causes.

Super Strengths: Energy, Charm, Speed, Heart

Kryptonites: May overlook practical limitations of a plan before moving forward on it. Potential for bouncing from one mission to another before making sure the i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed on the last one. 

We all have the potential to be exceptional, to be mighty in our own ways. Why wouldn't you want to know more about your potential for dashing heroics?

Let me know. What kind of super hero are you? 

Pat Answer need not apply

        I love living in a world where different is normal. Each of us is an interesting combination of raw materials and experiences. This was what made my experiences as a therapist both interesting and challenging. With each client there was a new combination of factors. Working in an university environment meant my clients came in with needs ranging from time management tips to overcoming mental illness. There was no place for pat answers anywhere in that spectrum. There is no One Right Way to organize your time, overcome Depression, or anything else.

     The biggest thing that has held me back from publishing my thoughts is the concern that people would see PhD and take something I write as some universal truth. Not because I think I hold some especially compelling authority, but because we humans tend to prefer simplicity. Our brains automatically look for overarching patterns that we can apply to as many situations as possible. Look back on the histories of religion, science and philosophy (and Facebook), and you will see people seeking universal truths. You will see the Great Thinkers battling to prove  their concept was the One universal truth.

    Things are changing and I’m glad to be a professional in psychology at this time. More and more of my colleagues are working against the basic nature of their brains. We are taking the patterns that the Great Thinkers in our field observed, assessing them critically to find their best elements, and integrating them to create more comprehensive ideas about how people work.

    Unfortunately there is a lucrative market for simple truths. The Self-Help genre is full of books, articles and blogs touting simple fixes for complex concerns. Just like the writings of the Great Thinkers of history, there are useful elements in many of them. Sometimes the right person finds the right book that addresses the right underlying problem in a framework the person can use. Maybe that person would never have sought help otherwise. However, there are a lot of books, articles and blog posts, and many people don’t have the necessary knowledge to be critical consumers of this multi-billion dollar industry.

    Touting simple solutions can cause harm. It could be small: wasting $20 on a time management book when the problem is you overcommit so much you would have to alter our physical universe to add two hours to every day to get everything done. (Or challenge whatever is keeping you from saying “No” on occasion.) It could be large: developing assumptions of hopelessness and helplessness, or feelings of shame after repeated failures to “change your life with these 4 simple steps.”

    So, no pat answers from me. Each person who reads this blog will bring different raw materials, experiences and concerns. What would help one, wouldn’t help another. Instead, I will do my best to take useful knowledge from the field I love, and write about it in an useable, informed and balanced way... Guaranteed.