In an era of Marvel movie franchises with all types of superheroes, have you ever considered that everyone of you who work has as uper power? If you take time to see superpowers in your colleagues, you will discover hidden talent, growth opportunities, and inspire everyone to bring their best selves to work.
Superman could lift tall buildings, and Luke Skywalker had the superpowers of levitation and premonition. As a professional, you are well-served to figure out the natural gifts and abilities that you have, as well as those around you. And then do your best to draw them out.
A superpower isn’t a skill but a perspective, a mindset, a way of working that enhances everything you touch. A person’s superpower is their genius: the specific, unique, and specialized skill that they bring to the workplace. It is their secret sauce.
Lily Kanter’s superpower is entrepreneurship. Kanter is a serial entrepreneur with extensive experience in the home design industry. She founded and led three very successful companies as a cofounder and CEO in the past 20 years; including Serena & Lily, Boon Supply, and Mill Valley Baby & Kids Home. She spent the early part of her career in accounting and technology leadership. While at Microsoft she was awarded the Frontier award from Bill Gates for innovating their first retail presence in San Francisco. She left Microsoft in late 2000 to start a family and focus her time and energy on philanthropic causes. She was featured on the cover of Time Magazine in July 2000 as part of the cover story “The New Philanthropists” for sponsoring and mentoring disadvantaged young adults into technology careers.
When we sat down recently on The Caring Economy to explore Kanter’s career and her pearls of wisdom gleaned over the decades, she inspired us more than ever. Not surprisingly. You see, Kanter had collaborated with Harlan Bratcher in the 1990s when he helmed Retail Development for the Japanese technology and entertainment giant Sony and Kanter was charged to bring software giant Microsoft’s first retail space to fruition with Sony Metreon in San Francisco.
As Bratcher said then and The Caring Economy audience experiences during the Kanter interview, a quarter of a century later, “Lily was always the smartest one in the room.” She was the one you wanted on your team — your own sort of Justice League, in keeping with the superhero theme.
Kanter’s own reference throughout the interview to one’s ‘superpower’ is insightful and actionable for all. She uses the metaphor to inspire self-reflection, save time, and get on with it. What is your superpower? It’s an invaluable dialogue for all of us.
When a person has their superpower named and acknowledged, they feel seen and validated, and they know that what they bring to the team is irreplaceable. They are no longer a worker with a set of skills but a hero who can save the day.
A superpower isn’t a skill but a perspective, a mindset, a way of working that enhances everything you touch. It is unique part of your brand and inspires others to say, “You know who would be great for this…?” or “We should go to so and so. They would know exactly what to do here.”
People want to know that what they do matters. They want to know that they have something special to contribute. And they want to be seen for the value they bring to the work. When people work from their superpower, they find themselves energized, fulfilled and purposeful, all of which increases engagement, sustains energy, and inspires people to go above and beyond. Just as Kanter has demonstrated from one start-up success to the next.
By contrast, when people don’t know their superpower or feel valued for it, they become just another cog in the wheel.
Kanter’s and my discussion on superpowers helped me to distill some samples for you. But before the examples, consider some questions to ask of yourself and others:
- >What unique contribution does this person bring to the projects, conversations, and meetings they attend?
- >What do people come to this person for?
- >What would be missing if this person were to leave?
Then behold some examples of superpowers:
- Extrasensory perception. Without needing to hear a single word from one’s manager, this person knows exactly what is expected of them – the results to deliver, the support to provide a colleague in flux.
- Bilocation – This person gets twice as much done and has many interesting things going on in life outside of work as well. Imagine someone sitting at your desk, working, and at the same time coaching a pal on the other side of the world on a challenging issue. This person can easily eliminate all distractions at work and thereby typically manage todo more than most colleagues. The Pandemic has developed this superpower in many people who have learned to work remotely. This is the super-human power of bilocation.
- Invisibility – When a person messes up something or prefers to remain a spectator in a tense meeting, this person suppresses the ego, sits quietly, and lets big egos of colleagues clash and flourish, while they remain a mere observer to the conflict. They even forget that they are in the room, which in fact means that they become invisible to their eyes. This person enjoys disappearing at times, especially when they find the conflict pointless, and not wishing to pour more oil into the fire.
- Time traveler — Most people lost their ability to think critically and won’t be able to leave their home without a smartphone. They are just tools in the hands of technocracy, walking zombies or robots. The time traveler keeps technology in perspective and can work it instead of being worked by it because they have unique perspective. Technology is not a means to an end.
Kanter’s superpower of entrepreneurship was something that she used to help humanity and make it onto the storied cover of Time Magazine. While she was creating Microsoft’s first retail store in San Francisco, she realized that the people they hired from the South of Market Street disadvantaged area of San Francisco,18- to 25-year-oldyoung adults from all racial backgrounds, had incredible technology talent. She says, “They could run circles around us as far as working on the PC’s and getting around the technology. I thought to myself, these people should have jobs in the tech world, not just working hourly retail jobs.”
Kanter facilitated her young proteges’ getting certified as Microsoft Certified Professionals, mentored them, and teed them up for amazing tech jobs afterwards. That is why Time Magazineput her on the cover along with other new philanthropists doing direct philanthropy and rolling up their sleeves to address social challenges, instead of just writing a check.
To see Kanter in action, across the decades, always leading and always championing others to find their own superpowers, is truly inspiring. As with all guests on The Caring Economy, Lily Kanter exemplifies how leaders with purpose-driven lives and careers are shaping our contemporary lives for the better.