Manager or Leader? Find your superpower.
Updated: Jan 25
One of the most common questions asked by job candidates, rising stars, and aspiring executives is something along the lines of, “what is the difference between the job I’m doing now and what I need to do to be a senior executive?”
When faced with this question in the past, I often found myself sharing anecdotes of great leadership that I think (hope?) were helpful to the mentee who posed the question, but I was often dissatisfied with myself after those answers because I felt like I was giving some form of the nebulous “you know it when you see it” answer that often does not help people improve and worse, can invite bias.
In an effort to push myself to be more thoughtful about traits that separate a rock-star manager from an executive leader, I’ve come to the conclusion that a transformational leader needs to have at least one Superpower. Sometimes they have more than one, but they need at least one. Almost no one is differentially good at all of them, so don’t sweat it thinking that you need to be the best at everything. But you do need to have at least one area where you are absolutely best-in-class in a way that changes the team dynamic and raises everyone else’s game.
The Leadership Superpowers - every great leader has at least one:
Creating the audacious vision / challenging the status quo - many great leaders have made their name by thinking outside the box, challenging their peers to achieve previously unheard of heights, and not taking no for an answer
Team building - Some of the greatest leaders I have worked with have made their entire career by consistently hiring amazing talent, challenging them and empowering them, and creating structures and incentives that allow them to thrive. This leader can sometimes be hard to spot because they fade to the background as their stars shine
Generating business / sales / customers - at the end of the day, a business without revenue is not a business. So, a leader who is truly gifted at growing the top line in a way that others cannot is highly valued - not only for their direct ability to drive revenue but also because they keep the company in touch with their customers and they make sure we are prioritizing customers in key decisions
Solving hard problems. Some great leaders can see the 2nd and 3rd order questions and answers better and faster than everyone else. Their pattern recognition is extremely strong and they are rarely wrong
As you think about your personal leadership journey, I would first like to say that almost no one is exceptionally good at all of the above. Choose the one(s) that feel right for you based on what you’re good at and what you enjoy. Focusing on your strengths and finding colleagues or team members who supplement the areas where you are less strong or get less energy is a much more energizing path to success than trying to be the best at everything.
Also - there are a lot of great leaders out there, but there are also a lot of people who landed in a leadership position but are not yet great leaders. So, don’t waste time comparing yourself to someone else. Instead decide what type of leader you want to be and work every day to get there. Advocate for your own career and ask for feedback constantly. If you are in a place where you are asking for feedback and getting none (or only positive feedback), ask for the next challenge. If you’re not getting it, look for someplace that will push you to the next level. If you find a great leader, seek them out! The best way to learn is still to see it live.
One last thought - give your boss and other leaders constructive feedback to help them improve. If you keep it constructive, a great leader will value you even more. And I know these aren't all of the Superpowers out there - what are some superpowers you've seen and appreciated in leaders around you?