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Super Leaders

“With great power comes great responsibility.” Most of us know this phrase because of Spiderman comic books or movies, and we can visualize Uncle Ben sharing this wisdom with Peter. What many people don’t know is that the sentiment indicated here dates back at least to the story of the Sword of Damocles, told by the Roman orator Cicero around 45 BC. In the tale, Damocles expresses to King Dionysius that he would like to experience the fortunes and power that must accompany the role of the king. King Dionysius agrees to trade places with Damocles for a day, but insists that his sword must hang directly above the throne where he will sit. Damocles agrees, and the sword is hung with a single thread of hair from a horse’s tail, emphasizing the incredible and immediate danger that accompanies such power. Before the day is over, Damocles begs the king to release him, coming to realize that he doesn’t want to bear the weight of such responsibility.

The story and the phrase have been paralleled throughout history by religious and political leaders and popularized by our superheroes. In a 1948 Superman serial, Clark Kent’s adopted uncle, Eben, tells Clark “because of these great powers . . . you have a great responsibility.” Queen of the Amazons, Antiope, tells her young daughter Diana, “you are stronger than you believe. You have greater powers than you know.” With the release of Tim Burton’s Batman in 1989 changing the way superhero movies were marketed, and Jon Favreau’s Ironman in 2008 launching the current Marvel craze, most of us are exposed to some form of a superhero on a daily basis. Certainly, our children are.

What, then, can we learn from this influx of superheroes? The most common trait to nearly all the characters is their willingness to serve, to do good, and to provide for others. Even Deadpool eventually transforms from supervillain to antihero (smart-aleck mouth aside). Whether reading the comic books or watching the movies, we can take leadership lessons from all of them. From the Hulk, we learn to turn weaknesses into strengths. From the Guardians of the Galaxy, we learn that leadership comes in all shapes and sizes. From Wonder Woman, we learn that compassion and kindness are imperative to achieving greatness. From the X-Men, we learn to embrace our differences. From Batman, we learn that you don’t need supernatural powers to serve others (of course, money helps).

When in leadership positions, we have both power and responsibility. We have the position and ability to make decisions, to hold people accountable, and to enforce standards. We also have the responsibility to lead by example, to serve our teams, and to motivate, encourage, and inspire. What have your heroes taught you, and how will you use those lessons to be a superleader today?

lynda carter as wonder woman


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