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Spider-Man’s Lesson in Leadership

When you are given a position over people, when you’re a manager, a director, a leader inside your company, your world changes. You may still think of yourself as one of the gang or team, but you aren’t.

Power is an energy equation. Knowing what you hold in your hands is critical for leadership. Don’t pretend you don’t have it, or make it all about you having the power. If you aren’t aware of your new level of influence, that power and authority is likely to work against you.

Let’s Talk About Sally

Sally is the Product Team leader at her company. Her team is responsible for the release of the company’s latest software product, hoping it to be a big seller if they can get it out in time for the retail rush.

At the executive meeting, where the new product and her team’s timeline was the major topic of discussion, Sally’s executive teammates pressed her to confirm the product launch date. They wanted to know her product team understood all that was riding on this launch. She assured everyone that all was well.

Walking down the hall back to her office, Sally felt the mounting pressure and weight of this responsibility. What she hadn’t shared with her boss and peers was her team’s concerns about the deadline and the real possibility that they might be late for the launch. Instead, she knew she had to get the team motivated and back on track, or else.

As she passed her team’s break area, Sally noticed a couple folks laughing by the coffee counter. She headed over and without taking a breath said, “What the hell?! Do you guys really have time to joke around? Weren’t you saying we might be late? Maybe we’re late because you guys are wasting time having fun. Get to work, NOW!”

Everyone scattered and there appeared a lot of activity happening very quickly. Sally walked to her office and slammed the door.

Well, that should get them fired up. Right?

A couple hours later, a silent, active workspace convinced Sally she had gotten the urgent message through to her team. She was a bit more settled until Tim, her peer and head of sales, walked into her office and closed the door behind him.

“What the hell is happening over here? Two members of your team called me to see if they can move to sales. I know you are going to be doing some redistribution after the launch but these guys wanted to move ASAP.”

Sally had a sinking feeling in her gut.

“Damn, I think I blew it. I came out of our meeting so stressed. And to get the team motivated I think I may have come down on them too hard,” Sally lamented.

Sally was guilty of using power without awareness of its impact. Yes, she’d gotten her people moving, but not in the right direction.

Too often leaders take their own anxiety and sense of urgency out on their team. The big reaction wasn’t helpful, but even worse she misinterpreted her impact. Sometimes silence doesn’t mean everyone is back on track and doing okay.

The Spider-Man Leadership Lesson

Remember that quote from Spider-Man, “With great power comes great responsibility.” For us mere mortals it should be, “With any power comes responsibility.”

My definition of responsibility is having the ability to respond. Not just react. But to be the one who stays present, sees the situation without needing to be liked, right, powerful, or even ‘real.’ Just present, responsive and able.

It’s not as easy as it sounds.

Balancing Act

The question is: When should I be real and when should I stay in my role as a leader? Ironically, most people get this backwards.

It’s best to be real with the team you are a member of rather than trying to look like you have it all together. It is helpful to be in your role with the team you’re leading. This is not to say never to be real with them either, just know they are looking up to you as the authority. Be present and aware of the impact you’re having. Your actions are magnified by ten with the people that report to you.

If Sally had been more real and honest with her executive team, letting them know the reality of the situation, they may have helped her problem-solve. She didn’t need to cave in to the power of authority. She could have shared her take on the reality of where her team was and her concerns. Depending on the team, they may have provided more resources, downsized the scope of the project, or come up with some creative solutions.

A little more vulnerability or realness with her peers may have been humbling, but it would potentially have been more productive. Likely, had she done that, she wouldn’t have walked away with so much internal pressure. That pressure resulted in her abusing her power rather than using it from a centered, grounded place to take control. That doesn’t often work so well.

As a leader of her team, Sally needed to be in her role. Not though over-powering, but by being solid, clear and firm. She should have let the team vent and even be angry with her, not getting caught up in angst. The real work of a leader is being present enough to know where you are in any given moment and be willing and able to respond.

Use power, not blindly or with entitlement. Instead, notice, listen, be clear, and be curious. Using power involves awareness of impact and a keen ability to be in a role and be real. Remember with power comes responsibility (response-able).

CrisMarie Campbell and Susan Clarke

Coaches, Business Consultants, Speakers and Authors of The Beauty of Conflict

CrisMarie and Susan work leaders and teams, couples in business, and professional women.

They help turnaround dysfunctional teams into high performing, cohesive teams who trust each other, deal with differences directly, and have clarity and alignment on their business strategy so they create great results.

Check out their website: www.thriveinc.com. Connect with CrisMarie and Susan on LinkedIn. Watch their TEDx Talk: Conflict – Use It, Don’t Defuse It! Find your copy of The Beauty of Conflict: Harnessing Your Team's Competitive Advantage here.

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