By Seth Cohen
For over a decade, we have met with thousands of top senior-level executives, many of whom have led large, influential organizations with a global mindset and visionary perspective. Most have extensive experience and possess leadership skills that enable them to make sound decisions and inspire others. Experience and skills that propelled them to the very top of their professions.
Having the opportunity to know and work with talent at this level, whether coaching them as they transition from their corporate careers to pursue new areas of opportunity or preparing them to interview for positions as expert witnesses, interim CxOs, board directors, and other senior advisor roles is fascinating, inspiring and at times slightly perplexing.
It takes tremendous ambition, grit, vision, courage, and hard work to reach the corporate heights these individuals have reached. Most share those admirable qualities; they are the superheroes of the corporate world. They also share another quality, and this is the most perplexing one. While all are very good at listing the accomplishments on their resumes, many struggle to answer one question effectively: What is your superpower?
The Superpower That Got You Here
Ask any superhero what sets them apart and what superpower they possess, and without hesitation, they will answer.
Thor will tell you he can fly as he soars around the room.
Invisible Woman will disappear and reappear across the hall.
Magneto’s superpower is telekinesis, which he’ll demonstrate by rearranging everything on your desk while looking out the window with his hands behind his back.
Now, suppose you ask an executive, one of these incredibly accomplished individuals, about the superpowers that set them apart and helped them achieve such high levels of success. Without missing a beat, they are likely to answer:
I am a natural leader.
I excel at getting things done.
Strategic thinking is my forte.
I am a catalyst for change.
I have a proven track record of turning struggling businesses into profitable ventures.
There is no denying that those skills are important and reflect a person’s capabilities. They should absolutely be included on a resume and in a LinkedIn profile. However, they don’t reflect the superpowers, the depth of skill and expertise that launched them to the pinnacles of success. When we ask an individual to tell us about their superpower, we’re looking for that extra something, the differentiator that sets them apart and makes them the perfect candidate for a very specific opportunity.
The Power of Your Story (Hint, it’s about more than just the facts)
What makes Marvel characters so compelling isn’t just their unique superpowers. It’s also the backstory of how they got those powers and the stories of how those superpowers led them to save the day. Stories of triumph over adversity are compelling and humanizing and demonstrate the unique strengths that set you apart from everyone else.
A radioactive spider bit young Peter Parker, giving him the abilities of a spider and his new identity: Spider-Man. He could shoot webs from his wrists, stick to surfaces and climb them, lift enormous weights, move with great speed and agility, and he has “spider-sense” that alerts him to impending danger. After a bad guy murdered his uncle, he used his powers to avenge his uncle’s death by fighting and catching criminals.
Now that’s a story that will make a person stand out!
With that in mind, what if instead of responding, “I am a catalyst for change,” the executive flexed those superpowers and became the engaging narrator of their powerful story, offering concrete examples of their transformative impact?
I’ve led and facilitated organizational change initiatives, driving strategic transformations alongside CEOs, middle management, and line employees.
The company was at a critical juncture, grappling with immense challenges and uncertainty. I recognized an opportunity to ignite innovation and effect lasting change.
I pulled the entire team together around a shared purpose; the pursuit of progress and a collective vision for success. Together, we navigated the turbulent waters of change, harnessing each individual’s diverse perspectives and creative potential and empowering them to voice their ideas and take ownership of their roles.
A cultural shift took place. Through this collaborative effort, employees were empowered, discovered their voices, and drove the innovation that revolutionized our customer experience.
Now you’ve got our attention! This is the depth of skill and expertise we, and our clients, are looking for. Now we know you are a powerful change agent who can meet a challenge head-on, lead and inspire a team to innovate and deliver successful results.
Always remember that the presence of superpowers is not limited to comic books and the silver screen. Within each of us lies a unique set of exceptional qualities waiting to be unveiled and harnessed for fun and profit.
What is your superpower? I’d love to hear your story.
Seth Cohen is the Managing Partner of Eleven Canterbury. He was a member of the Group Managing Board and Head of Group Offshoring at UBS AG.