What’s Your Superpower—and its Shadow Side? (Transcript)


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?

Suzanne Gibbs Howard (00:05):
Welcome to the IDEO U Creative Confidence Podcast, a series focused on building your confidence at work to tackle your biggest creative challenges. Join us as we learn insights and lessons straight from IDEO and today's most impact-oriented design thinking leaders.
Suzanne Gibbs Howard (00:27):
Hi everybody. Welcome to another of our Creative Confidence Series. Today I have Sara Kalick with me. She is the general manager from SYP's Leadfully, and it is a service and product that provides all sort of leadership development and coaching to people all around the globe. We are thrilled to have her with us today to talk about Superpowers and to do a little exploration with all of you about what your Superpowers are and why they actually are important to be in touch with in today's world as creative leaders.
Suzanne Gibbs Howard (01:00):
As we dive in, I know the thing that we're here to talk about is something called Superpowers. This is something that SYPartners has been working on for a while, and there are all sorts of materials and we're going to give people a little interactive glimpse of that today. But just with the topic of Superpowers, I'm curious to ask, isn't this kind of woo-woo self-help stuff that people are into in California? Do you actually use this in the world of business in New York and other places around the globe?
Sara Kalick (01:31):
Woo-woo, I love that word. There's so much talk right now out there about making work more human, about showing up 100% human at work. And we live in a world right now where the challenges that we're trying to face are ever more complex and the reality is we're not going to solve them by companies just hiring the same types of pedigrees. They need to create much more collaborative teams that are bringing together the diversity of thought that's out there. If I think about that, this isn't woo-woo, this is simply just good business.
Suzanne Gibbs Howard (02:06):
What are some of the things that have led to this in the work that you do in consulting with SYPartners? How did you land on Superpowers?
Sara Kalick (02:18):
SYPartners has been around for almost 25 years, and so much of the work that we do is about working with CEOs and senior leadership teams around transformation and helping them think about where they need to challenge their assumptions about what's possible, about their business, about their brand, think about where they need to go and how they're going to get there. In order to come up with the Superpowers, Keith Yamashita, who's our chairman, and Julie Felner, who used to be with the company, really looked at the different archetypes of leaders we've met throughout the years and did some pattern mapping to come up with what are the different ways we see people show up within teams.
Sara Kalick (02:55):
They did an initial prototype and then iterated on it from there. We all bring different ways of showing up and working with others. And so the Superpowers is really a distillation of what that is to help people then identify their unique strengths when working with teams.
Suzanne Gibbs Howard (03:12):
Okay. So they've looked at the patterns that they see within different leaders who are doing great work, really powerful, and then sort of extrapolated some of those and then you share them as this set?
Sara Kalick (03:24):
Yeah, they did an initial set. We iterated on it and then expanded it from there. Now I believe there are probably about 35 of those.
Suzanne Gibbs Howard (03:31):
One of the things that we're curious about is how do you use these in your work at SYPartners?
Sara Kalick (03:42):
We use them within SYPartners, and we use them within clients. This is really a way for people to get clear about first their Superpower -- so discovering what makes you great and understanding not only how this helps you show up at your best -- but also the shadow side, so how this might hold you back in certain instances.
Sara Kalick (04:01):
When you understand who you are at your best, it allows you to then partner with other people and have a shared language so that you can understand how each person on a team is activated. When you do that, you can start to cast teams in ways that aren't just about roles and responsibilities, but are about how do you bring in that diversity of perspective that's really going to lead to innovative thinking?
Suzanne Gibbs Howard (04:22):
I think that's so interesting. I mean, there are so many commonalities in the work that you do in SYPartners and the work that we do at IDEO in actualizing amazingly powerful leaders. One of the common things that we see is this need to be in touch with and self-aware. What are your strengths? How do you lean into your Superpowers, whenever possible, but also be aware of the places that you have a deficit and where you need to partner with other people or build a diverse, strong team to actually tackle some of these amazingly challenging things we face in the world.
Sara Kalick (04:59):
Absolutely. I think Superpowers gives us a way of talking about it through a lens of strength as opposed to talking to people about all of their challenges. Even talking about your shadow side, it's still something that's kind of positive because it's core to you and the strength that you have. Superpowers also gives you a way of recognizing other people around you and acknowledging them for their strengths, which we know positive acknowledgement is a way to inspire people and motivate them to do their best work.
Suzanne Gibbs Howard (05:25):
I know one of the things that we commonly see is you never say thank you enough as a leader in today's world because you certainly aren't going to get there on your own.
Sara Kalick (05:32):
That's for sure.
Suzanne Gibbs Howard (05:34):
Recognizing and acknowledging people is really important. We always love to make things experiential and give a bit of experiential learning, and so we wanted to dive right into an activity with all of you today. We're going to pull up a little something on the screen and take a moment to share. You've pulled six Superpowers.
Sara Kalick (05:57):
I've pulled six that are representative of different types of Superpowers that you'll find within the deck. It's a mix, so think about each of these, read through them and identify the one that feels most true to who you are when you show up fully activated with your team.
Suzanne Gibbs Howard (06:15):
Okay, so we've got them pulled up, and Sara and I are going to walk through them and think about them for ourselves. So what you do when you're doing this as part of the Superpowers tool kit is you're trading off one of these against the other. You're thinking about the team that you're in. I'm thinking which one is most like the ways that I behave. So let's talk about, A.
Sara Kalick (06:33):
A is if the team is technically brilliant, but they're not necessarily attuned to what's going on inside people's heads. And they really need someone who can have a sixth sense, who can easily read what others are thinking and feeling. So that might be you.
Suzanne Gibbs Howard (06:49):
Or are you a little more similar to B, which is when a team's hesitating and they're a little bit stuck. Are you the type of person who just comes in, starts making stuff, starts putting new ideas out there and challenging people just to learn as they go?
Sara Kalick (07:05):
Or are you more like C? For example, if the team is in the midst of a big push and they're not really getting things done. The work's getting closer, but it really requires a lot more effort. Maybe they need somebody more like you who can really bring the elbow grease to keep the work pushing and get it done with perseverance.
Suzanne Gibbs Howard (07:24):
Or are you a little more like D? If it's a team that you're working with that comes to conclusions too quickly. Always a problem in the business world. People are like, "Okay, that's it. Let's just race toward that one," and there's no friction. Are you the type of personality who shakes things up a bit and challenges the team to think a little bit more before they proceed?
Sara Kalick (07:44):
Versus E, the team is in the middle of a really complicated problem with tons of moving parts. Are you the type of person who can see the full picture and help everybody understand the different pieces and how they connect?
Suzanne Gibbs Howard (07:57):
And the last one we have is F. If you've ever been working with a team that's hungry and they want to do something bigger and bolder, are you the type of leader who can paint a picture of the future and then start a team on its way? And so I can see we have questions. Rami is asking, "What if you feel like you're more than one of them?" What do you do in a situation like that, Sara?
Sara Kalick (08:21):
It's funny, the exercise is designed to help you figure out your Superpower, so that singular one, but the reality is, I like to say we're all special snowflakes. Most of us tend to have a few Superpowers, one that's maybe the most dominant and a few others that support it. I know I have two that I constantly gravitate towards, and I think most people tend to have that as well, which which is totally fine. But again, I think this is all about self-awareness and seeing about which one of these do you tend to lean into versus what do other people tend to lean towards?
Suzanne Gibbs Howard (08:50):
And I know a lot of you are saying, "But they all resonate. I can do all of them." Think about your current team because it is very team dependent, right? So what is the team that you're working with and what's the Superpower that you're leaning into in that case? You might lean into different ones at home, different ones with your partner, your kids, different ones with your community outside of work. But with your team at work right now, we're going to ask each of you to just go with your gut and pick A, B, C, D, E or F, and then we'll get a sense of how people are feeling in their work right now with the teams they're working on.
Suzanne Gibbs Howard (09:22):
One more thing just as we're talking, waiting for people to roll in with their votes, we talk a lot about the shadow side. Other people bringing up the Achilles heel.
Sara Kalick (09:31):
As I mentioned, Julie Felner who helped create the Superpowers, her Superpower is empathy. She's the type of person who really can feel other people's feelings. When she draws that card it makes a ton of sense and it's very self-actualizing and gratifying, but it also makes sense that the shadow side is she has difficulties making decisions because she's constantly taking in other people's perspectives, which makes it hard to be decisive in that moment.
Sara Kalick (09:56):
My Superpower is systems thinking, so I'm great at seeing how all the parts connect together. The shadow side of that is that I can constantly want to keep unraveling the system as opposed to making a decision right in that moment as well. And again, it's all about awareness and understanding how you interact with others and then how you activate other people to counter your shadow side.
Suzanne Gibbs Howard (10:17):
Yeah. So nice. We'll talk a little bit more about tips. Let's see, the votes are in. So it looks like E's the Superpower of this group.
Sara Kalick (10:29):
Oh my God, that's my Superpower.
Suzanne Gibbs Howard (10:31):
So seeing how the different pieces connect. After that, we've also got easily a lot of empathy going on this community and making stuff, prototyping, putting it out there and then an even spread across everything else. Let's go ahead and go to the next slide and look at a high level of what these Superpowers are. And so I think what's nice is the way that this experience brings it to you is letting you put yourself in that scenario, letting you understand and think about where do I go most often. And then only after that, revealing what the name of that Superpower is.
Sara Kalick (11:07):
The reason we do it that way is that people tend to, if you just lead with the name of the Superpower, people will pick the one that they think is the sexiest versus being true to themselves about what's the nature of how they show up. And all of these are incredibly positive. It's just forcing you to think about how you show up versus the thing that you want to pick.
Suzanne Gibbs Howard (11:25):
Yeah, and it's so interesting in different kinds of cultures and contexts. In a business environment there are certain things that seem to be more privileged or sexier for that environment and so how do you make sure you have a balance across?
Sara Kalick (11:35):
Suzanne Gibbs Howard (11:35):
I know one of the things that I was thinking as you're talking about this is that there are things you can do once you have this self-awareness in the ways that you participate and lead in groups. And so I know one of the things that I often do is when you understand your Superpower, you can marry that to your team and say, "Hey, I know I have trouble making quick decisions," or, "I know I have a tendency to unravel things, so help me out here, push on me for that, and I need you to bring this."
Suzanne Gibbs Howard (12:02):
What are some of the other ways that you see your teams inside of SYPartners reflecting these?
Sara Kalick (12:08):
I would say first and foremost it's what you're talking about. So having these conversations where it gives you a shared language to be able to talk to each other about your Superpower and your shadow side. I'd say another part about that is then to be able to look for ways to activate people. I have this great memory of working on a project with Keith where we were really struggling to connect and get a momentum with the client and he kept saying, "We have to get to you to London, we have to get you to London. We have to activate your Superpower."
Sara Kalick (12:35):
My second Superpower is empathy, which tends to show up for me around relationship making. He's like, "We have to get you there to make these relationships." And the point of that is just activating people and calling them out on what makes them great, again, makes them feel great at the same time.
Sara Kalick (12:50):
The third is then how you think about how you cast teams. So what you don't want to do, as much as you need to create a team that has the right roles and responsibilities, you also have to think about the other types of diversities you need. So you don't want a team that's got three people with vision, but nobody with grit, or all empathy, but no decisiveness because otherwise you end up in a situation where you've got all chiefs and no Indians.
Sara Kalick (13:13):
And I've seen this happen at clients before where they do this exercise and it helps them see what types of Superpowers they might need to hire for next in order to create that type of diversity.
Suzanne Gibbs Howard (13:22):
Yeah, that's so incredibly important in hiring. I think it's so easy to think about diversity, inclusion. Not easy, but it's visible to see it in terms of ethnicity or gender. But to think of it in terms of attitude or Superpower or stance as a leader is so much more subtle and so much harder to perceive. So this is such a great tool for hiring.
Sara Kalick (13:43):
Suzanne Gibbs Howard (13:47):
Well actually, one thing I wanted to do and then we'll come back to full screen. So on the next slide, I just want to be sure to share that it's not just these six.
Sara Kalick (13:54):
Suzanne Gibbs Howard (13:55):
There are a couple dozen.
Sara Kalick (13:57):
I think there are about 30 to 35 Superpowers in the deck, so there's a whole range of diversities that you could find yourself showing up at your best. And as I said, there'll be one that you might gravitate towards the most, but they'll likely be two or three that you'll have in your back pocket as alternate Superpowers.
Suzanne Gibbs Howard (14:14):
And then do you use it in different times yourself? Do you use it in your home life? Do you test your partner? Do you ...
Sara Kalick (14:20):
I've definitely heard of people doing this. Often when we did this exercise with clients people will take the decks home and be like, "I can't wait to use this with my husband." Because again, it creates a language about why I'm showing up the way that I'm showing up and that conversation starts to make it a lot easier to break down barriers.
Suzanne Gibbs Howard (14:36):
Is there anything about, I know with a lot of personality tests and leadership stance tests, there's something about the person taking it and understanding their type themselves versus other people typing them.
Sara Kalick (14:48):
Yeah. I think what I've seen often happen is people will do the card deck. Then, as we have each person share out their Superpower, what's amazing is then seeing everyone else around them echo back to them, "That's exactly who you are." And it creates, again, a great conversation for people to be able to share with them.
Sara Kalick (15:09):
I've also seen teams use this in a way where they will use it to identify somebody else's Superpower, which I think can also be incredibly gratifying.
Suzanne Gibbs Howard (15:18):
Hmm. That's nice.
Sara Kalick (15:18):
All of them are positive.
Suzanne Gibbs Howard (15:20):
Yeah, and with so many people leaning into the world of the positivity of being an introvert, I think that's not the type of person who's usually going to throw it out and smack down, "This is my Superpower. Come to me for this." But it's a great way to tap into the real unique potential of those types of values.
Sara Kalick (15:37):
Totally agree.
Suzanne Gibbs Howard (15:38):
Great. As you use this with clients and teams, give us a sense of the range of organizations. I know our organizations are both very creative so I think these conversations are a little more natural in those environments. Do you also see this in engineering-driven organizations, finance organizations?
Sara Kalick (15:59):
Yeah. I mean, we've done this exercise or they've brought it into the organizations at places that range from American Express, GE, BlackRock, IBM, Casper. I mean you've got high growth to traditional straight-laced mainline types of organizations who are all looking for ways for people to articulate how they show up at their best and the diversities that they bring. Particularly organizations that I think are at the forefront of things like diversity and inclusion are really celebrating this type of tool.
Suzanne Gibbs Howard (16:28):
Yeah, really interesting. There's one question. Paige was asking one. Is there one Superpower or a set of Superpowers that are more valuable in today's market?
Sara Kalick (16:42):
I think they're all valuable. Anything from vision to energy are going to be essential in the things that we need to do today that I wouldn't prioritize one over the other. I would more prioritize finding groups of people that represent diversities so that you're not just hiring for one over the other. As I said, you don't want to be in a situation where you've got all systems thinkers, but no creativity or provocation, or all vision, but no grit, which means that they're all radically important.
Suzanne Gibbs Howard (17:12):
How do you think of this in comparison to other commonly used personality tests? There's Myers-Briggs, there's Enneagram and a lot of these come into leadership development. Do you feel like this is similar or different?
Sara Kalick (17:27):
I think these types of assessments all run around a similar theme of self awareness. I think where Superpowers really shines is the simplicity and the humanness of how it's experienced. It's really easy to grok and then again, creates an easy way for sharing out and having conversations around it. Whereas some of the other ones are a little bit more complex, but they have a ton of value at the same time. It depends on how you want to use them.
Suzanne Gibbs Howard (17:52):
Yeah, there's something that's so nice as well about leaning into your strengths. I know there's so many things with StrengthsFinder and those types of assessments, but really identifying something that makes you want to put a cape on your back and say, "This is what I can do for you," and the idea of just busting it out and unleashing it.
Sara Kalick (18:11):
Declaring it.
Suzanne Gibbs Howard (18:12):
Yeah, at the right time.
Sara Kalick (18:13):
Often when we do this exercise we give people stickers and pins, which they'll then wear for the next couple of days. I mean, I know I have mine on various blazers because I want to declare it. It's my Superpower.
Suzanne Gibbs Howard (18:23):
Yeah, it's your gift. Speaker 1 (18:25): Hey guys, just want to tell you a bit more about IDEO U. We're an online school where anyone can learn to solve anything creatively. Built for individuals, teams and organizations, IDEO U equips leaders with the tools and mindsets necessary to ignite creative confidence and tackle complex challenges. Speaker 1 (18:48): This fall register for Hello Design Thinking, our introductory design thinking class taught by David Kelley. And check out Tim Brown's five-week leadership course Leading for Creativity. If you're liking what you're hearing, sign up here for more at IDEOU.com/cc. Now, let's get back to the conversation.
Suzanne Gibbs Howard (19:13):
You started off at the beginning talking about leadership. The needs of leaders in the modern worlds are really different. Where were we 20 years ago with leadership? And then talk to me a little bit about some of the patterns that you're seeing for how the demands on leaders in today's world are just so different.
Sara Kalick (19:33):
As I said, we've been around for almost 25 years and we've really seen a shift in leadership today. So if you look back a decade, two decades ago, leadership focused on things like tenure roadmaps, and financial engineering, and resource optimization, and a whole bunch of buzz words that were ultimately about making a machine work efficiently. That made sense when things didn't change as rapidly as they do today.
Sara Kalick (19:58):
But we're living in a world right now where disruption is constant, where the pace of change is unrelenting and we can't simply manage what is known. We actually have to lead into the unknown. And around that we see four capabilities emerging as the essential new capabilities that are not yet taught in business school or traditional leadership development.
Sara Kalick (20:16):
Those are around things like optimism, so seeing possibility and framing the world around you in terms of opportunity. That's true whether or not you're a CEO and looking at new competitive threats or if you're sitting there with a team of five people with a fire drill from your boss going, "Okay, what am I going to do? Do I work through the night or is there something amazing we could do in five minutes or 50 minutes that would be brilliant?"
Sara Kalick (20:37):
Creativity, which is something that we both celebrate, around imagining and making new solutions and really applying a maker's mindset to everything that we do, not just product and service innovation. Authentic communication, which is all about storytelling and activating others so that you can inspire their belief and help them understand what's happening and what they can do to take a step forward.
Sara Kalick (20:59):
And then humanity, which is where Superpowers comes in. How do you see and activate individuals and teams? Some of the most forward thinking companies are really moving to collaborative mission-based teaming models, and so in that context, how do you see each individual for their strength? How do you create teams and systems where those teams can thrive, especially in the messiness when you invite people to be 100% human at work, it gets pretty messy pretty fast.
Suzanne Gibbs Howard (21:22):
Those are amazing themes and I think so important and not the common things that we've seen historically and that are commonly taught. I think MBA programs are starting to teach that...
Sara Kalick (21:35):
Suzanne Gibbs Howard (21:36):
... more and more, but it's not always the norm.
Sara Kalick (21:40):
Something historic, but it's definitely catching up. And we see this through Leadfully, as most organizations are moving to a place now where transformation isn't something they do every 10 years. It's something they have to do every day and they want to ready their people to be able to show up to do that.
Suzanne Gibbs Howard (21:53):
And then when you talk about the need for more humanity in the workplace and to be able to tap into people's Superpowers, another thing that we've been looking at is connecting an individual's center of themselves and their sense of purpose and what they value in the world to the place of business. Are there ways that you've used Superpowers to connect to the purposefully led business?
Sara Kalick (22:17):
One of the things we often do, and I think this is about creating space for teams to really get to know each other, is understanding what is the mission of the work you're trying to do? And helping each person then articulate, "How can I use my Superpower to contribute to that? How can I show up at my best to help deliver on that mission, and what am I going to need in order to be successful?"
Sara Kalick (22:37):
And I find with my own team, with other teams that I've worked with around this, when you help people draw the connective tissue between what lights them up and what the mission of the team is, they can all of a sudden find extra strength within themselves to deliver more against that.
Suzanne Gibbs Howard (22:52):
Yeah. So interesting. Slowing down just a little bit...
Sara Kalick (22:56):
Suzanne Gibbs Howard (22:57):
... to find those common bonds, and then that's one of the things that can catalyze the work of a team forward even faster.
Sara Kalick (23:02):
Suzanne Gibbs Howard (23:04):
So I'm going to go to some of the questions that are coming in from our community. Are there more tips you have about how to promote and activate people? Help them unlock that Superpower and put it to work?
Sara Kalick (23:18):
I think this time of year everyone's usually doing a wrapping up of end of year feedback from last year, talking about goals for the year to come and one of the things that we do, I think particularly well at SYP, is help people think through a lens of positivity. So what have I done really well last year? What do you want to see me do more of this year? How can I bring my Superpower more to bear in the work to come?
Sara Kalick (23:43):
It's not just about you telling me that, but each of us going out and seeking out feedback from those around us and looking for those themes and then creating goals around that, that are going to allow us to activate our Superpowers. Once you have those goals, how do you then share them with everyone around you and create co-conspirators around it?
Sara Kalick (24:00):
I think too often we create goals and they live in a file on our desktop or worse, in a folder somewhere else, and we don't look at them ever again. So how do you make that part of a ritual of how the team works together, whether that's daily or weekly? Just going back to that and helping support each other in it.
Suzanne Gibbs Howard (24:16):
Yeah. So interesting. I'm curious to know, is there a Superpower that you would love to steal from somebody else?
Sara Kalick (24:24):
Oh, yeah.
Suzanne Gibbs Howard (24:26):
What's one that you're working on yourself?
Sara Kalick (24:28):
I would say I love provocation and it's not that I'm not provocative, but I feel like the people who are great at this are the ones who are just challenging things constantly and asking that question that just flips everything around. That would be one that I'm always looking to steal.
Sara Kalick (24:46):
Grit is another one. I used to work with a woman named Kate Boydell, whose Superpower is grit, and her ability to just persevere through something was unparalleled to anybody else. And so looking to those people and just going, "How are they doing what they're doing? How are they showing up in that way?" And then looking for ways for me to adopt that into my own way of leading and being.
Suzanne Gibbs Howard (25:10):
That just feels so natural and so human, just to spend a little more time with those people, watch them a little bit more, pull them in as your co-conspirators for your own personal growth.
Sara Kalick (25:19):
And I say this all the time to folks that I'm coaching or mentoring is going, "Look at everyone around you and look at their Superpowers and be really clear about what you want to steal from them. I mean, we are all learning beings. How can you constantly grow by sucking the marrow out of other people's Superpowers without being evil in it?"
Suzanne Gibbs Howard (25:37):
Okay, another question from Joey is do you have any recommendations for when grit and perseverance clash, or a clash of some of the others? What happens when you have clashing personality types? I'll have you lean in just a little more here.
Sara Kalick (25:54):
That's a great question. I think first and foremost it's the conversation. Why are we showing up this way? What is the conflict that we're having? And then reorienting back to, "What are we trying to achieve, and how can we then think differently about how we're showing up in those moments?" I think so often when we experience conflict, we experience it emotionally.
Sara Kalick (26:15):
You're showing up in a way, and I'm now starting to not like you for it versus when we can have a conversation about it and unpack why you believe what you believe and then challenge our assumptions together we can often arrive at much better places for how we can work together and move the work forward.
Suzanne Gibbs Howard (26:30):
So by coming back and peeling back some of the shadow sides, some of the things that are getting behind, normalizing some of those patterns of behavior instead of it being personal.
Sara Kalick (26:39):
Normalizing it and reconnecting to the purpose that we have together. So let's think about what are we trying to do and if we both agree that we're both trying to do it, how can we work better together in order to achieve it? I think so often we actually start to resist each other because we feel that conflict versus actually leaning into it.
Suzanne Gibbs Howard (26:57):
I have a question here from Elizabeth about can a person's Superpower vary with the context and environment. And I know that can be who you're around, but also in times of stress, right? So I've talked about some of the patterns you've seen there.
Sara Kalick (27:12):
I definitely think this is why we don't just have one Superpower. As context shifts, as you work with different people in different Superpowers, you might draw on different things that are in your toolkit so that in certain moments I might lean more into empathy versus leaning more into systems thinking because that's what's required of that moment. And I think being mindful of, as teams change, as you add new people, touching back in and saying, "What are the Superpowers, and what does this moment require of me?"
Suzanne Gibbs Howard (27:44):
That's so helpful to know what your range is. Come back, go through the test again and think, "Okay, what came up that was second in another context." I think that's also so helpful to think about what is the particular situation you're thinking through and who are the other people there as you do the exercise, so it's something you can come back and do again and again.
Sara Kalick (28:02):
Suzanne Gibbs Howard (28:02):
From Laura, she's asking, "Do you believe certain roles are better suited to a certain Superpower or one can leverage that same Superpower no matter what their role is?"
Sara Kalick (28:12):
So interesting. I'm sure that there are some patterns where you might find people of certain roles frequently having certain Superpowers, but more often than not, I actually see a diversity in it where you might see a project manager who is bringing creativity, where you might've assumed that a designer is going to be the person who's going to bring creativity, versus the designer who's bringing grit. And I think that it's less about role and more about just your orientation towards the world.
Suzanne Gibbs Howard (28:44):
I think that's again, so common in the things that we see is that we think if you're in the finance department that you don't have permission to be creative, that you have to be the more analytical, quiet engine of the team. But I think when we really do some of these tests, people are often surprised at how creative, and how much creative potential, every single role in the organization can have.
Sara Kalick (29:09):
That's such an important point to be able to then look at people who might not be in disciplines or silos and realize that they actually have Superpowers that we should be tapping into. And therefore, how do you take that person from finance who might have creativity as their Superpower, but allow them to show up in ways where they can contribute to ideas before the fact and bring them into different types of working situations?
Suzanne Gibbs Howard (29:32):
There's a really nice question here from Lisa about reconnecting. Is there a way to reconnect with your own Superpower if you're in a situation where you're feeling burnt out or overburdened by some of the other dynamics on a team that you're working with?
Sara Kalick (29:49):
There's a lot of self-reflection that can happen and I think being able to step back and say, "What does it look like when I'm fully activated, when I love what I'm doing? What are the tasks that really light me up?" And having an honest conversation with yourself first about, "Is this work the work that I should be doing?" And then connecting in with your manager or team leader, others and thinking about is this the best use of your talents or your time?
Sara Kalick (30:15):
Obviously, we don't all want to switch jobs just because our Superpower isn't being fully activated in that moment, but it does create an opportunity for conversation and thinking about what could I lean into, what could I do more of?
Suzanne Gibbs Howard (30:27):
I know you do a lot of coaching of different people in your work through Leadfully and just in your work as a consultant. I'm curious, can you talk about a time where you've seen somebody actually unlock and all of a sudden really blossom more fully into their Superpower? Just so we can understand how that unleashes something unique in the world of business?
Sara Kalick (30:49):
I think about a woman that I had been coaching a lot last year and her really starting to recognize that her Superpower was around empathy. I don't think she had previously thought of herself in that way. And as she thought more about it, recognizing that she wanted to spend more time coaching her people, which forced her to shift her entire orientation to how she was leading. Of moving from a place where she was dictating, to moving to a place where she was delegating for people's development because she was spending a lot more time getting to know the people around her and what would light them up.
Sara Kalick (31:22):
She then started assigning work in different ways that freed her up to do work at a higher level and to be more strategic versus being always in the weeds. And I think it really transformed a lot about her leadership and how she partnered with other people simply by starting to recognize what she loved and doing more of it.
Suzanne Gibbs Howard (31:42):
I know a lot of times a phrase that gets bandied about at IDEO, in terms of leadership development, is to be a little more selfish. It seems like such a strange way to go about it, but what I read into that is being in touch with what it is that's going to bring your best self to that work. Taking those things and then being very in touch with the humanity of other people around you so that you can pair them with which pieces of that huge creative problem that needs to be solved. They can bring their best talents to it.
Sara Kalick (32:15):
I love that notion of being selfish. When I show up at my best, I'm going to make my biggest contribution, and so I should be selfish in that regard.
Suzanne Gibbs Howard (32:23):
A couple more in here. Lots of things flying through. In percentages do you have an optimal combination of Superpowers? Is that possible or is it just a snowflake thing?
Sara Kalick (32:36):
I think it's just a snowflake thing. I don't have a percentage of you should have X number of these, or your dominant should be 70% and your minor should be 30%. I think it's more special snowflakes.
Suzanne Gibbs Howard (32:49):
And Chris is asking, "With job descriptions and systems that are provided by companies which are so helpful for fairness and providing paths for people, when you have a job description, is that a barrier then to somebody understanding your other Superpower? How do you resolve a clear set of accountabilities for a role with the unique snowflakiness of the individual?"
Sara Kalick (33:16):
Very interesting. I don't know that I've thought about it in terms of job descriptions. I have a colleague who is in Lisbon who's often thinking about Superpowers through a different lens of how do you help people create their profiles in ways that they actually start to use their Superpowers as part of their profile? Which is the reverse of saying what is the job description and which Superpowers does it actually require of you? I don't know that the job description limits Superpowers, but I think it's more about how do you use those things together versus separately?
Suzanne Gibbs Howard (33:49):
So clearly there are many ways to achieve accountabilities in a particular role and then the different ways that you go about it.
Sara Kalick (33:58):
And like I said, you could have 10 people in the same role who each represented a different Superpower. They could all be excellent in that role. I don't think the job description holds them back. I think it's about how you let people show up and play to their strengths.
Suzanne Gibbs Howard (34:12):
So in interviewing for certain jobs, what are some of the questions you might ask to understand, you know if we've got a team full of empaths, last thing you need is another empath. How would you help people discover, if they haven't done something like this, how would you help them articulate what it is they're looking for?
Sara Kalick (34:27):
Well, we actually in many cases are using the Superpower exercises in interviews just to help people start to articulate that. And so that we can think about with the diversities that we might need in a moment, what are the Superpowers that we might be hiring for in a specific role for a specific team?
Sara Kalick (34:43):
I think similarly you could go down different lines of inquiry. What does it look like when you show up at your best? Tell me about a person that you've worked with and how you've partnered together. What was their strength? What was your strength? Where was their conflict? How did you resolve it? I think there's a whole language of questions that you can ask to tap into that.
Suzanne Gibbs Howard (35:02):
Nice. And one from Mary here. "How do you work with coworkers or those you manage who may rely too heavily on a certain Superpower? Do you ever coach people and they're resistant to change?" I've definitely seen situations like that myself where somebody is bringing it so completely with one side, but they're draining others in the room of ever getting to go down that path.
Sara Kalick (35:29):
I worked with a woman a few years ago whose Superpower was often about -- and I'm forgetting the word in this moment -- but she was great at being devil's advocate. But the way that she showed up could be incredibly antagonistic and so her challenging actually shut people down. And so the coaching and conversation that we had in that moment was not to not show up in that way, but to help her see how she could use that in a way that opened up conversations rather than taking them down.
Sara Kalick (36:03):
I think at some point helping people understand the impact of their behaviors is the hardest thing to do in coaching versus talking to people about their skills. Behavior's a much more difficult conversation, but I think the first step is really revealing how people experience you, the good and the bad, and then helping them take steps towards using their Superpower for good and not evil.
Suzanne Gibbs Howard (36:26):
And one of the phrases we often talk about in elevating design thinking to true creative leadership is that reflective self-awareness. You'd have to constantly manage the energy of the team, constantly inspire people, constantly navigate ambiguity and bring teams into the unknown. You cannot do that these days if you're only bringing one version of yourself to work. So having that awareness to know when to bring the best of your Superpower and when to tap into others is so incredibly important.
Sara Kalick (36:57):
One of the things we talk a lot about with Leadfully, especially around optimism, is managing your energy to stay open to possibilities. If you're not taking care of yourself, if you're depleted, if you're not sleeping enough, or not eating enough, or whatever that is for you to show up at your best, you're going to be in a get it done kind of mentality. It might be that when you start using your Superpower it's kind of like a bull in a china shop.
Sara Kalick (37:21):
But I think if you are able to step back and be reflective, then you can think about what does the team need in this moment and how can I actually tailor my strength to make sure that I'm activating them and keeping them energized?
Suzanne Gibbs Howard (37:32):
Hearing the ways that you talk about this, it just makes me so aware that leaders today need, and everyone needs, to be a great coach. Everyone needs to be constantly cultivating the individuals around them even more than ever because roles are not so clear and cut and dried, and we're not robots getting things done. And so how are you constantly coaching people, getting them to bring the best of theirself?
Suzanne Gibbs Howard (38:00):
One of the last things I want to ask you is what's one of the most surprising places that you never expected this language of Superpowers to get used, but you were just so pleased when you saw it there?
Sara Kalick (38:12):
I think about so many of the clients that I've worked with, whether it's BlackRock or IBM or American Express, where they take to it so quickly. At first they think that it's going to be a woo-woo exercise that we might do, but then immediately look for ways that they can get the decks and bring it into their teams and have these conversations. Because great leaders want to get to know the people on their teams and are looking for ways to have meaningful conversations.
Sara Kalick (38:39):
I think a tool like Superpowers creates the prompt for that, that relieves the individual of having to ask hard questions that they might not be ready to ask themselves.
Suzanne Gibbs Howard (38:48):
Wonderful. Well, thank you so much for sharing all this with us today. We're all about giving you more and better tools to tap into your own creativity, your own Superpowers, and those of the amazing people around you.
Suzanne Gibbs Howard (39:04):
We'll share more on this in the future and if there are other things that you're curious to know, we'd love to hear from you. So please feel free to reach out to us on any of our channels, on email, through Twitter, and let us know what else you'd like to know about Superpowers and how it would be more and more possible for you to use these in your own work. So thank you Sara for joining us. We look forward to more time with you soon.
Sara Kalick (39:27):
Absolutely. Thank you all. Speaker 1 (39:30): This episode of Creative Confidence is from IDEO U. Stay up-to-date on our creative confidence conversations and send your questions for upcoming guests. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, and sign up for our IDEO U newsletter at IDEOU.com/cc. Thanks for joining us.

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