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Leadership and Codependency: Life Lessons from Superman and The Avengers

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

We are right in the middle of super hero movie season and my spazz hands are in full effect. It’s basically like Christmas season for me. And with superhero movies coming out between February and November this year, it essentially means I’m like the guy who leaves his Christmas lights up year round and watches Hallmark movies in June. If someone came to the mall dressed up like The Incredible Hulk, I would go sit on his lap and ask him for a BB gun. "HULK SAY YOU SHOOT EYE OUT!"

Now that Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Captain America: Civil War have both been released in theaters, I figured I'd take a moment and talk about a concept that I’ve wrestled with over the last few years that I think many of you can identify with:

Less of Superman, more of The Avengers.

No, this isn't a “Marvel is better than DC” fan boy argument. In fact, I am a big Superman fan. If you're new to this blog, you can read more about that here. I have loved Superman since I was a little boy. I recently found a photo of me as a 4 year old standing guard near my baby brother. He’s just an infant, and I am sitting right by his side in one of my many Superman costumes keeping him safe, ready for any adventure that awaits.

There is nothing Superman can't do. Faster than a speeding bullet? Yep. Stronger than a locomotive? Absolutely. Flying angrily around the Earth to reverse time and save Lois Lane? Um…sure, We'll go with it. He even has the superpower of creating bricks with his eyes and rebuilding the Great Wall of China.

Wait, what???

A scene from Superman IV: A Quest For Peace

Being Superman sounds pretty awesome. And despite not having the power of eyeball brick building, we often carry a Superman mentality throughout life. Or at least I do. Maybe that’s the result of wearing a cape for three straight years as a kid (or possibly as an adult…shhh don’t tell anyone.)

When I am under stress, I tend to default back into “I’m Superman and I need to save the world” mode. However, I was never asked to take on that responsibility. And even if I was, I’m pretty sure my physique is a TAD different from our favorite Kryptonian (although that won't stop me from breaking out a skin tight blue onesie!)

As a result, I find myself exhausted and desperate to retreat back into the fortress of solitude.

Taking The Superman Approach

Here are three ways that being Superman is actually hurting us:

1. Ineffective Leadership and Work

When we act like Superman, our effectiveness is limited by what we can accomplish. No matter what our super powers are, we can do far more with others than we can do individually. Instead, our focus as leaders should be on building a team instead of conquering everything ourself. Leading like Superman means doing everything. We can spend too much time away from our sweet spot - the things we love and are great at. We need to build a team. In his book, Built To Last, renowned author and leadership expert Jim Collins says that the most effective leaders are those who develop into clock builders, not just time tellers. We have to equip those around us to tell time. What would happen if Captain America tried to solve every problem by himself? He’d have a much more limited capacity to help people. Instead, he is surrounded by other heroes, many of whom are more powerful than he is. As a result, he and The Avengers can accomplish far more than he could on his own.

2. Codependent Relationships

When we are in Superman mode, we try to save everyone. But we can’t, and we aren’t supposed to. Or we can, and they never change what causes them to need our help. Our constant rescuing enables people to continue their unhealthy behaviors. People need to fail to learn and grow. If we always rescue them, they won’t feel the weight of their failure and change doesn’t happen. Let’s take a look at Lois Lane for a second. Would she always take these unnecessary risks if she didn’t feel like Superman wasn’t there to rescue her? “Hey, I think I should go undercover to write a story about the dangers of stealing heroin and weapons from drug lords. What could go wrong?"

3. Failure to Acknowledge Kryptonite

Superman is invincible, right? Until that pesky glowing green stone appears. Then he's just a man with a cape and great abs. He is always sufficient, so when he isn’t, he is thrown off and has to step back and adjust. If we are Hawkeye but go into battle thinking we are Superman, we will be in trouble. Understanding our weaknesses helps us step into community and ask for help. The members of The Avengers each have strengths and weaknesses (often very glaring ones). However, this awareness helps them strategize around their individual strengths and protect each others weaknesses.

Taking The Avengers Approach

These are a few questions to ask ourselves when we begin slip into Superman mode:

1. What are my limits?

2. Is there someone better equipped to do this than me?

3. What are my best strengths?

4. Am I wiling to trust others?

Answering these questions will help us grow individually, develop stronger relationships, and accomplish far more than we could do if we remain in Superman mode. As much as I don't want to, I think it's time to take off the cape and pick up a shield.

Avengers Assemble!

Join The Conversation

Do you typically see yourself in the "Superman" role? If so, how has it affected your work and relationships? Have you had any success building teams and stepping into community? I would love to hear your thoughts. Comment in the section below, or contact me on Twitter @RickGuttersohn.

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