Are You Tapping into Your Team’s Superpowers?

How well do you know your employees? If you are an executive, manager or team leader, chances are you have a good sense of the professional capabilities of those who work for you. You have seen them up close in the work environment and witnessed firsthand how they have handled their roles and assignments. You have made some judgements about where their talents lie.

But consider for a moment the possibility that your views might reflect a very limited perspective of who your employees really are. Ask yourself what “superpowers” might be lurking just below the surface of your employees’ at-work personas. You might be surprised by the answer.

The notion that there is much more to employees than meets the eye came to me recently when facilitating an introductory “icebreaker” for a group planning retreat.  As an opener, I asked each member of the group to briefly describe their most memorable “adventure”.  Suddenly, as brief tales of deep-sea diving, mountain climbing and volcano trekking unfolded, I was struck by the thought that many otherwise ordinary appearing individuals must be equipped with hidden “superpowers”. I was reminded once again of the old adage: don’t judge a book by its cover. I began to wonder: How many Clark Kents or Jessica Joneses walk among us undetected?

Of course, the superpowers of which I speak are not just those found in Marvel comics. Beyond the purely physical aspects, they also include aspects of the mind and the heart. It has been said of former Vice President Joe Biden that his superpower is his ability to empathize with people who are going through tough times – an ability he gained first-hand through family tragedies and personal struggles. This suggests that superpowers are not just innate but are qualities that develop through lived experiences.

Superpower “personas” manifest in surprising ways.  Reflecting on our own team, for example, (since we are a close-knit group, I know something about their lives beyond work) those personas include a punk rocker with a photographic memory; a technology guru and GO Master Strategist; a gifted artist, herbalist and linguist; an “internationalist” with roots in Morocco, France, and Canada; and a marathon runner with a taste for endurance sports. You can guess at the hidden superpowers that are reflected in our team. Intelligence, foresight, creativity, diversity, and tenacity are a few that come to mind. Beyond the limited confines of standardized CV profiles, they represent qualities that benefit our clients in a myriad of ways.

Talented as our team is, I don’t believe we are unique. (In fact, if you’ve seen the film Moneyball, based on the book by Michael Lewis, you will have a sense of the amazing potential of overlooked talent.) I suspect that a glimpse beyond the surface personas of most work teams would reveal similar hidden powers waiting to be tapped. So, what can leaders and managers do to tap into those powers? Allow me to propose three possibilities: First, give employees the flexibility to pursue outside interests. (Universities call this a sabbatical – a period of paid leave granted to a university teacher or other worker for study or travel.). Second, provide opportunities for employees to showcase their talent among coworkers and clients as a way to forge stronger interpersonal relationships. Third, recognize and reward unconventional contributions to team performance. For example, in basketball, the NBA Sportsmanship Award is given to a player who most “exemplifies the ideals of sportsmanship on the court with ethical behavior, fair play, and integrity.” The NHL has a similar award presented each year to the player deemed to have exhibited the highest degree of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct.

In summary, leaders and managers would do well to avoid simple one-dimensional judgements of their employees’ capabilities and pay closer attention to their less revealing attributes. Indeed, recognizing and tapping into employee superpowers is likely to unleash new potential for inspired team performance.


By John V. Gelder, CMC, CPF



About the author: John is a Certified Management Consultant (CMC) and Certified Professional Facilitator (CPF). He is a founding partner and senior consultant with Gelder, Gingras & Associates.