What’s Your Superpower—and its Shadow Side?

“When you understand who you are it helps you partner with others; you can cast teams in ways where you bring in a diversity of perspective that leads to innovative thinking.”
—Sara Kalick, Leadfully VP and General Manager

Your Superpower is your contribution, the role that you’re put on this Earth to fill. It’s what you do better than anyone else. Tapping into it will not only help your team, but you’ll find your work more satisfying, too.

In this Creative Confidence Series episode, we discussed Superpowers with Sara Kalick, Leadfully VP and General Manager. How do you activate individuals in teams? How do you see each individual for their strength? And how do you create teams and systems where those individuals can thrive?

Superpowers is a tool SYPartners developed to help teams identify individual strengths—and the corresponding shadow side—and learn how to use them to be their best. Watch the video for a quick exercise to help you find your own Superpowers, and check out highlights from the conversation here.

“Though it might be easy to think of some strengths as sexier or more reliable, they’re all valuable to a team—and that’s the whole point.”

Superpowers Defined

We live in a world where the challenges we’re trying to solve are ever evolving and complex. To build innovative solutions, companies have to move beyond hiring for the same kinds of pedigrees, and think about team building in terms of combinations of individual strengths. To provide a tool to help with that kind of thinking, SYPartners looked at the archetypes of effective leaders and pattern-mapped their attributes to come up with 21 different Superpowers. They range from empathy—a strong ability to understand client/user/team needs—to systems building—understanding all of the pieces of a process—to creative thinking, grit, and decisiveness, among others.

Though you might identify with more than one Superpower, it helps to think about them in the context of your work, and specifically what you bring to your team. Superpowers also don’t necessarily conform to roles. There’s no reason someone in the finance department can’t have creativity for their superpower, or the team leader might have empathy. And though it might be easy to think of some strengths as sexier or more reliable, they’re all valuable to a team—and that’s the whole point.

Determine Your Superpower

Here’s a peek at 6 of the 21 Superpowers in the assessment. Which sounds most like you?

Which one of these is most like you? (a) The team is technically brilliant, but they’re not always attuned to what’s going on inside people’s brains. You have a sixth sense about people and can easily read what others are thinking and feeling. (B) The team is hesitating, worrying about what they don’t know, and trying to plan everything in advance. You stop the overthinking so they can just start making stuff, putting it out there, and learning. (C) The team is in the midst of a big push, and while the work is getting closer, it requires more effort, more attention, and more elbow grease. You push them to keep going—to persevere. (D) The team comes to conclusions too easily. There’s no friction—and too much consensus. You shake things up and challenge them, pushing them out of their comfort zone. (E) The team is having a hard time seeing the full picture—which means they aren’t making informed choices. You see how all the different pieces connect. (F) The team is hungry to do something bigger and bolder. You paint a picture of the future and start them on their way.


See the corresponding Superpowers below. 

Cast and Activate Your Team

The concept might have a bit of a “woo-woo,” self-help vibe, but as Sara points out, really, it’s just good business. Companies need to create much more collaborative teams and think about diversity not just in terms of ethnicity, background, or gender, but also in terms of thought. Understanding what each employee brings makes it possible to stack a team with an array of strengths; after all, you wouldn’t want to build a team of three people with vision but only one with grit, or all empathy and no decisiveness.

Having a shared language also makes it possible for team members to learn more about how their colleagues’ strengths can be activated, and acknowledge each other’s best work. As leaders, we can never say thank you enough.

“Understanding your shadow side is just as important as being aware of your Superpower—and maybe even more important to figuring out how best to work with your team.”

Recognize the Shadow Side

For every strength, there’s a corresponding weakness, something SYPartners refers to as the shadow side of your Superpower. If your Superpower is empathy, for example, your ability to consider everyone’s side or thinking can lead to delays in decision-making. Those who come naturally to systems thinking might focus so much on process that they hold things up. Understanding your shadow side is just as important as being aware of your Superpower—and maybe even more important to figuring out how best to work with your team. If you’re a great devil’s advocate, how can you make sure your feedback pushes things forward without alienating your colleagues? Think about how you can activate them to push you to improve.

Rethink Modern Leadership

After a quarter of a century in business, SYPartners has seen an evolution of what’s most important in leadership. Two decades ago, Sara says, CEOs focused on 10-year roadmaps and financial engineering, and resource optimization. That made sense when things weren’t moving as fast, but when disruption is constant like it is today, it’s time to flip the formula. According to SYPartners, there are four essential capabilities for leadership: optimism—seeing, possessing, and framing it; creativity—a maker’s mindset for everything a company does, not just products and services; authentic communication—for storytelling and activating others; and humanity—for creating mission-based team models. It’s a set of qualities that most business schools and traditional training programs don’t focus on, but it’s a far more human-centered way of thinking about leadership. Everyone needs to be a great coach and constantly cultivate the individuals around them. Superpowers are one tool to make that process a little easier.


Superpowers (6 of the 21): (A) Empathy: You have amazing powers of perception. You sense needs and emotions, even when no one is saying anything. (B) Experimentation: You have a prototyping mindset You rapidly generate ideas, identify the best, set them in motion, and refine as you go. (C) Grit: You are the quiet engine of the team--pushing yourself and the work until it is truly done. (D) Provocation: You often strive for greatness when other might be content with good enough. (E) Systems thinking: You see the forest and the trees-even the underground root system. (F) Vision: You have a kind of crystal ball--you can see a future destination in vivid color.


Discover your unique strengths, build stronger work relationships, and unlock greatness in your team in our online class, From Superpowers to Great Teams.

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