Do you think Superman ever forgets that not everyone is bullet-proof? How about the Flash; do you think he forgets that not everyone has super-speed?
I’m kind of thinking the Incredible Hulk keeps in mind that most people don’t get big and green when they’re angry, but you can never be sure.
The point is that we have a tendency to think that anything we can do, and anything we know, is a common, unremarkable thing. We’re so used to using a skill, for example, that we can’t even imagine how to live without it.
An example: I was talking with a client about redesigning the steps involved in one of the main tasks of her job. It’s been my experience that, if you ask most people about how they do their job, you can’t shut them up when they start talking about what’s wrong. Assuming that, but also reckoning that she was unfamiliar with how to design a process, I figured I’d get her talking about it, and then slide into talking about a new design of the process. I would ask her how she would want the process to work, if she could make any changes she wanted and start sketching out a new flow. The conversation did not go as I planned, as my client seemed completely flummoxed by the whole subject. Forget about designing a new process; she hadn’t even spent any thought analyzing the tasks she did every day.
Maybe you read that and thought the person wasn’t good at her job. That wasn’t the case at all; it’s just that her job had nothing to do with process improvement or analysis. It wasn’t part of her education, her training or her experience. As a result, when I tried to discuss process design, I was really speaking a foreign language.
What I’d run up against was one of my secret superpowers. I’d anticipated that my client was not an expert in process design, but I was so used to it as a professional tool, it didn’t occur to me that it was something esoteric.
That’s an easy mistake to make. You may feel like everyone knows what you know. Think of using Microsoft Office or a web browser: You don’t put those on a resume. You figure it’s table stakes, roughly equivalent to showing up on time and wearing socks that match. Maybe you feel the same way about some of your other skills, too.
But it’s not true. You have knowledge, skills or habits that set you apart. A lot of what you know and how you work is not “out of the box” functionality, so to speak.
What can be a superpower? It can be practically anything where you bring value to a project or team. Don’t see these ideas as limits, but candidates for superpowers can be found in soft skills, industry knowledge, technical knowledge and professional skills. Maybe you always know how to calm people down; that’s a superpower. Maybe you have instant insight on designing a technical architecture – another superpower. The ability to frame a problem or issue so that other people can easily understand it? Another superpower!
So what should you do about your superpowers? Here are five actions to take.
Identify Your Superpowers
Think about Spider-man figuring out how to sling webs. You have to spend some time thinking about what you do every day. What sort of skills make you feel good? What do other people commend you for or ask you to help with? Also, there are plenty of books and web sites for skill and strengths assessment you can use.
Own It, Leverage It, Add It to Your Brand
Now that you’ve identified it, make it part of your identity. Call it out in a resume. See how your LinkedIn profile highlights it. Reference it in status updates in social media or instant messaging tools.
Coach From It
This is probably the toughest action. It’s important to remember that not everyone has your superpower. When you’re using it, you may need to let other people set the pace. Sometimes you have to let a teammate do things their way, rather than jumping in and taking over. Sometimes you have to take things step by step, explaining all the way along. Longer term, look for ways to help people understand it for themselves. Develop a way to share the knowledge so people understand what you’re talking about. Learn how to coach someone towards developing their own version of your superpower. And always, remember that with great power comes great responsibility!
Build on It
Remember that when Superman was created, he could only leap tall buildings in a single bound. Flying came later. Build your skills through training and keeping up on new practices. Try to do work where your superpowers can come into play. Share your ideas on exercising your superpower through blogs, team communication, and the like. Find other people with the same superpower and share with them. Longer term, you may have to transform your superpower: what worked when you were in one role might not work in another.
Be Proud of It
You’ve earned that superpower. Even if you got that superpower by being bitten by a radioactive project manager, you’ve developed it over long years of practice. Now it’s part of you, and it’s something to think about when you’re having a bad day. You’ve got your superpowers going for you, and they may be just the thing for you to size up a tricky situation and sing, “Here I come to save the day!”