One of my first mentors gave me a piece of advice on leadership. It was a few years ago, but it went something like this:
“Your personal leadership style is the sum of what you’ve learned from your leaders. Make sure to reflect on their traits, philosophies, and behaviors — both the good and bad.
The good — to inspire your own leadership; the bad — to remind yourself what not to do.”
I was encouraged start a ‘leadership bible’: a journal with reflections on all the leaders I’ve had during my career.
Four years later, I’ve continued this habit of reflecting on the different folks I’ve been fortunate enough to have as my leaders.
By exercising the muscle of observation, and specifically the skill of noticing what unique skills, strengths, or superpowers my leaders had, I found myself naturally doing this with peers, friends, and the other people around me as well.
Beyond being a good self-awareness and growth exercise, it’s also been a great gratitude and empathy one too.
When you notice the special talents of the folks around you, you can’t help but have deep appreciation and respect for them.
I’ve noticed that when folks refer to leadership skills, they tend to mention the more traditional ones such as public speaking, organization, and charisma. So I wanted to share some of the more unique superpowers I’ve observed over the past few years.
These are skills and strengths relating to thinking, communication, problem-solving, and execution that allow one to be an effective leader.
It’s not limited to formal leadership though. It can be informal leadership at work, leadership within a social circle, leadership within extracurriculars, and so forth.
Some of these may seem familiar.
You may know a few individuals that fit into these themes. Or perhaps you possess these skills. Maybe I’m even writing this about you.
Either way, these are real strengths I’ve observed throughout my career (and life) journey.
👨🏫 The natural mentor and coach.
As you gain life and work experience, it’s natural to fall into a mentorship role and give back to those earlier in their journey by sharing what you’ve learned. Most of my peers have 3-4 mentees (and mentors) on an ongoing basis.
One of my mentors has the extraordinary ability to truly mentor at scale (think: 30+ individuals at once). It comes from a place of deep curiosity, empathy, and innate desire to help others out.
It goes beyond answering simple career and life prompts. Rather, it involves asking the right questions to uncover unrevealed interests, passions, and talents to help people realize their true potential.
🤹🏼♀️ The activator.
Some people just have the superpower to make sh*t happen. They have the power to convert abstract ideas into reality and drive it all the way through.
It’s amazing to watch someone take a fragment of an idea, turn it into a fully-baked concept, garner the support of various business partners, and empower them into execution and delivery.
It involves a few different skills: planning, influence, design, storytelling — just to name a few. And when you package it all up, it gives you the skill of ‘activation’.
🙇 The one who provides perceptive, genuine, and encouraging compliments.
It’s hard to dissect the mechanics behind a strong compliment — perhaps it’s the delivery, the context, or both — but you’ll know one when you hear it. It gives you a warm, fuzzy feeling and there’s no doubt in your mind that it was genuine.
I’ve noticed that some have the ability to notice intimate details and share compliments in a way that is incredibly thoughtful and tasteful. In a work setting, this skill is useful for encouragement and influence, and outside work, for charm and charisma.
🧗🏻 The universal high performer.
These folks are classic high performers in every category and life. Top 99th percentile in academics. Gold medalists in athletics. High performers at work. And overall, charismatic, kind, and generous people.
The mantra of “How you do anything is how you do everything” holds true to this bunch and they take pride in excellence, grit, and work ethic.
Mindset is of paramount importance and these individuals truly believe they can accomplish anything they set their mind to.
🧏🏻♀️ The one who listens with genuine empathy and care.
In a city (New York City) and industry (Internet, Technology, Software) where the attributes of performance, competition, and rigor are dominant, these individuals are a rare breed.
Everyone is always trying to out-earn, out-work, and out-grow each other in a society where comparison and benchmarking yourself against peers is the norm.
A friend of mine has the ability to put herself and her ego aside and wholeheartedly listen to me and put herself in my shoes. She’s not thinking of what to say next, trying to sound wise by providing generic advice, or end the conversation early.
She’s there for me and to provide genuine empathy and support when I need it.
I appreciate you folks.
🧙🏽♂️ The calm, wise, and confident one.
These individuals are unmovable and stoic (in the best possible way). They’re unfazed by high pressure scenarios and challenging situations. But not to say they’re indifferent. They care — just in a calm, controlled manner.
I had a leader like this. He always kept his composure, even in the rockiest circumstances. He always had the wise answer. Always had a plan. Always could de-escalate tension by bringing his calm, comforting presence to the table.
In moments of chaos, these individuals can bring a certain energy to the team to ensure good decision making and collaboration.
👨🏼🏫 The humble fountain of knowledge.
A literal human encyclopedia who can provide a logical, thoughtful answer to 99% of the questions I ask and is humble enough to admit when he can’t answer the remaining 1%.
There’s a certain element of timelessness to the way he learns and absorbs information. In a world where most folks are learning through 3-minute YouTube videos, 500-word articles, or better yet — 7-second TikTok videos — it’s rare for someone to learn through reading old fashioned books.
When it comes to reading, most people I know (myself included) tend to believe everything they read, especially if it’s been cited and stamped as a “New York Times Bestseller” . But research changes, new studies are surfaced and theories are debunked.
It takes an additional level of thoroughness to question the underlying facts and I’m always impressed when he does so.
🕵🏼♂️ The one who seeks to understand.
A similar thread to the above superpower; these folks are naturally curious and inquisitive. They tend to ask questions that nobody else has thought of asking, and as a result: receive unique insights.
They’re able to easily form mental maps of abstract, complex ideas, and connect all the moving parts. Give these folks a tough, meaty problem, and within the hour they’ll have a model or framework highlighting logical alternatives, considerations, and potential outcomes.
When given a problem, it’s easy to jump to solutions. It’s understandable as it’s fun to brainstorm creative outcomes. But it’s important to understand the issue at the root cause. And often times, this involves further questioning, digging, and uncovering.
💃🏼 The charismatic, magnetic conversationalist.
You know that feeling when you leave a conversation feeling extremely energized?
I’ve found that in some of my 1:1s, some folks have the ability to consistently bring a certain aura and energy to the conversation, both in-person and on Zoom. They present the sort of magnetism that could keep you talking to them for hours.
If I were to try to decipher the mechanics of this, I’d likely say it’s the combination of being an excellent conversationalist, a naturally optimistic and positive person, and being clearly present during the interaction.
I often look forward to interactions with these folks. It’s always a treat.
I can probably write 100 more but I’ll stop here.
I’m eager to hear what you think, and specifically:
What superpowers have you come across?
It can be something you have or that you’ve noticed in others.
If I receive enough responses I’ll do a follow-up to share the new ones.