February 1st, 2015

My 10 year old son recently asked me which five superpowers I would want to have. His list included things like telepathy, telekinesis and density changing (the ability to make one’s body less dense in order to pass through solid objects–I didn’t know that, did you?). Fun stuff to think about at that age.

But his question got me to thinking about what “superpowers” make for great leaders. What are the best leaders able to do that set them apart from the rest?


So here is my list of the top five leadership superpowers:

Generous Listening. The ability to suspend judgments and assumptions and listen to others with an open, generous mind. Most of us listen to others through mental filters made up of preconceived judgments about them and what they’re talking about. We aren’t consciously aware of these judgments, but if we could tune into them they would sound like, “I like his ideas” or “I don’t like his ideas”, “I agree with her” or “I disagree with her”, “I already know the right answer”, etc. People with this superpower are aware of the unconscious assessments they are prone to making and can suspend them long enough to really hear what others are saying. Of course they assess what they hear later, but first they open their minds and listen. These are the people who hear good ideas others miss. They hear what drives, motivates and engages people. They hear what they need to be highly effective leaders.

Perspective Taking. The ability to see people and situations from different points of view. Men and women with this superpower can see through others’ eyes. They don’t let themselves get locked into a single viewpoint. Instead they consciously step into, consider and explore multiple perspectives. This doesn’t mean people with this superpower don’t have their own point of view. In fact, they are very clear about where they stand. They also understand and respect how others see things, including the people they lead, their customers, their competitors, their allies, even their enemies. Using this ability extraordinary leaders identify solutions that engage and work for the broadest possible range of stakeholders.

Self-awareness. The ability to see and understand ourselves, including our personality traits, values, habits, emotions, and the psychological needs that drive our behaviors. People with this superpower know themselves well enough to avoid getting in their own way. They constantly seek to understand themselves better and are open to any feedback that helps them do so. Being highly self-aware, these people are more readily able to listen generously and take multiple perspectives. Leaders who are highly self-aware know and can use their strengths effectively. They also know their limitations and can work around them effectively.

Insatiable curiosity. The ability to set aside preconceived ideas about what we know, wedded to an intense desire to learn. Curiosity drives both learning and innovation. Leaders who are insatiably curious about the world around them readily acknowledge what they don’t know, but they don’t just stop there. When they recognize they don’t know something that is important to what they care about they plunge in and learn everything they can about it. Leaders with this superpower are constantly asking questions and listening generously to the answers they get. Insatiably curios leaders continue to learn, grow, and get better at what they do throughout their careers.

Absolute sincerity. This is the ability to be completely honest and act with full integrity. Leaders who have this ability are first and foremost honest with themselves. They don’t lie to or hide from themselves. They don’t excuse themselves when they make mistakes; nor do they put on false modesty when they do things well. Integrity means their words and actions are honest and are in full alignment. Others can believe what they say and count on what they do to line up with their talk.  Absolutely sincere leaders engender deep and lasting trust in those who follow them.

What are your top five?