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Superheroes & Leadership

October 26, 2014

Recently I was fortunate enough to spend time with the folks at The Ideas Centre and was thoroughly inspired by their approach to creativity in the workplace. Of all the techniques they teach and employ, one in particular stood out for me, and to be more specific one question ‘What would Batman do?’

Batman

As a tool for creativity, a way of accessing what Edward De Bono described as the intermediate impossible, the question of ‘What would Batman do?’ has massive potential, but why this resonated with me so strongly was a mystery.

Perhaps my inner geek was struggling to get out, on the other hand it could be that my social conditioning helped me identify with the idea of a saviour who would make everything better.

Looking back to my formative years, growing up as the son of a clergyman, the idea of a saviour was a theme that was frequently visited and has led to a couple of tendencies:

When things get tricky, the idea of the saviour gives me hope that someone will come along and ‘save the day’.

When I see things that are getting tricky for others, I have an urge to help out and be their saviour.

In all likelihood the second of these effects sounds far more positive than the first, but the reality is that they are different sides of the same coin. Whether we feel that we need to be a ‘saviour’, or we need to be ‘saved’, we recognise the benefit of not facing things alone.

Working together and supporting each other is arguably an intrinsic part of the human experience, and I would encourage everyone to engage in it, but something interesting happens when we look at these ideas from the perspective of leadership.

When we find ourselves in a ‘leadership role’ do we feel that one of these patterns of behaviour is more fitting than the other? Do we have a tendency to become the ‘Saviour’?

Well perhaps being the saviour is not the best approach. If we consider that the role of the leader as motivating, empowering and getting the full potential out of people, how useful is it to be the person who comes along and sorts out their problems? With the ideas of motivation, empowerment and getting the full potential out of people, how often would it be beneficial to occupy the role of the ‘saved’ and allow others to do the work?

So what has this got to do with Batman?

As a recognisable figure within our society Batman certainly has a lot of virtues that we would associate with leadership, but ultimately there’s a part of his character that only makes us feel good about ourselves when we’re more like him. In fact, there’s a well-known quote that says:

Always be yourself.
Unless you can be Batman,
then always be Batman

If we really want to succeed as leaders, we need to unlock the potential of those we interact with. If we choose to do this by inadvertently getting them to be more like us, we can end up limiting them and subsequently not fulfilling their own full potential.

Coming back to the initial question posed by the folk at The Ideas Centre of ‘What would Batman do?’ if we want to come up with great ideas that can really help us to take great leaps forward, try being Batman for a while, just remember that there’s a time and a place to wear your underpants on the outside.