Guest Post by Michael Ziener: If You Had Superhero Powers...

If You Had Superhero Powers..., Would You Need to Ask What Am I “Supposed” to Be Doing For The Rest Of My Life? - by Michael Ziener

In a recent article, John Coyle asked a very good question: what are your superhero powers? I want to echo that question. To clarify, I am not asking if you can morph into any shape to camouflage yourself from the evil villain or leap tall buildings in a single bound. Rather, what differentiates you from the group? Every single one of us is unique. I can quickly think of some people who had incredible “superhero” strengths that altered the course of history. Who was the first person that popped into your mind?

  • Michael Jordan
  • Mozart
  • Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • Einstein
  • Ben Underwood

You’re probably asking yourself, who is Ben Underwood?

“Ben Underwood was diagnosed with retinal cancer at the age of two and had his eyes removed at the age of three. He was able to detect the location of objects by making frequent clicking noises with his tongue. He used it to accomplish such feats as running, playing basketball, riding a bicycle, rollerblading, playing football, and skateboarding.” www.benunderwood.com

Ben Underwood’s superhero strengths of listening and making sounds gave him the amazing ability to see with no eyes, no guide dog and no cane. But, he had to lose his sight before he could find his path.

So, how did I find my superhero strength? When I was in my 30’s and owned a marketing firm, I thought “This is it! I made it. I am exactly where I’m supposed to be.” I had a wife, a son, a home and my own company. Nope. I was the furthest away from where I was “supposed” to be, and I had no clue what was about to happen. My superhero strength was about to present itself.

First, some background. I had lost my entire family to cancer: mom, dad and grandparents. I had suppressed those emotions so deep; it was preventing me from realizing my own strength. Not strengths like being extroverted or empathetic, but something I possessed which ultimately turned into a reinvention of my career and myself. I figured out what I was supposed to be doing: why I am here.

Ziener Family

In 2007, I was looking through the lens of a video camera recording a documentary for “my company” at a Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in Chicago. I was filming a woman who had stage 4 breast cancer telling her story. As I was watching and listening to her take every breath in my headphones, a flood of emotion came out of nowhere that overwhelmed me. I was mentally taken back to the exact moment my father walked into my bedroom when I was 9 years old to tell me that my mother, age 39, in 1982, had died of stage 4 breast cancer. Drop video camera….

I decided to sell my company and in 2008, I became the CEO of that very same chapter of Susan G. Komen for the Cure©, charged with driving that organization through massive growth over a 4-5 year period. Through collaboration and my newfound strength of HELPING OTHERS, we went from $700k in annual revenues to $4m in revenues in under 5 years. These increased funds allowed women who did not have insurance to receive mammograms. I was helping. I was making an IMPACT. My pain became my passion.

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I have an undeniable ability or superhero strength to help others. To give more of myself than what I used to believe I could offer. I have found that I possess the ability to give hope and aid through a newly identified “servant heart.” My career serving others was born. I am no Michael Jordan. I may not impact the world like Martin Luther King, Jr. but, that is not the intention of this article. I want each of you to realize that you are unique and possess a strength that is non-traditional.

What differentiates you from the group? What is your remarkable ability that could potentially alter your life and bring you to a place of fulfillment that you never thought was achievable? What undiscovered superhero strength might you hold? What are you supposed to be doing?

-Michael Ziener

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Are You Missing Your Hidden Strengths? What Are Your Superhero Powers?

Are You Missing Your Hidden Strengths? What Are Your Superhero Powers? The popularity of Gallup’s StrengthsFinder, and  similar assessments, has given a great deal of exposure to the idea that “discovering strengths” can enhance  productivity, success and happiness.

A quick scan of the field, however, suggests that most  assessments that help people find their natural strengths and talents, tend to focus on cognitive or interpersonal capabilities. Characteristics like “analytic,” “empathetic,” “competitive,” “organized,” “intuitive,” and “extroverted,” have become the language de riguer to describe strengths and talents. Yet, these terms ignore a whole host of other characteristics that clearly play a role in the successes or failures of individuals.

Perhaps we need to expand the strengths playing field.

We know from ample research that people generally make “blink” or intuitive judgments about others based on a host of factors, many of which have nothing to do with their cognitive ability. For example, we know that height is a seriously influential predictor for deciding the next president.

What “non-traditional,” unnamed, or counter-intuitive strengths might you have? Think of other categories of talent and capability:

  • Physical characteristics: height, weight, presence, shape, posture, voice
  • Kinesthetic skills: balance, touch, fine motor control, spacial capability
  • Artistic talents: rhythm, tone, pitch, color sensitivity
  • Physical abilities: lung capacity,  fast twitch muscles,  eyesight, smell, taste

And then there is synesthesia – the mixing of some or all of these elements, where smells or sounds have a color, and people can see feelings or hear a silent activity.

When I think of my super-talented friends and acquaintances, I tend to find a weird intersection of common and uncommon capabilities melded in a counter-intuitive way. For instance, Tina DeSalvo is a tiny, tiny woman. Her physical presence is so diminutive that she could easily be dismissed and marginalized in the business world. Instead, she matches this non-threatening physical aspect with a calm, yet steely, confidence to lead boardrooms of men through exercises of vulnerability that would be nearly impossible with another facilitator.

Steve DeCaspers is the opposite – a large man with a round head and kind features. Steve can make any room in the world laugh and is one of the best MC’s I have ever seen.

Matt Stutzman has no arms, but through his stubborn refusal to consider himself handicapped holds the world record for the longest accurate archery shot, thanks to the strength, flexibility and stability of his legs.

David Rendall was repeatedly rebuked as a child for being a) unable to sit still, b) unable to stop talking, c) being the class clown, and d) unable to take direction. Now he travels the world where he a) never sits down, b) talks for a living, c) tells lots of jokes, and d) runs his own successful business as a public speaker.

Chris Callis was an average student in the classroom. But, one day, when I asked him to help me pack my moving truck, I saw spacial relationship genius of the finest order. It  would have taken me 3 trips to stack, pack and rearrange all my furniture and boxes in that small truck. Yet, Chris managed to reverse, rejigger, scissor and jigsaw into place all my worldly belongings in one trip in a small moving truck. Chris grew up assisting his father, who was an electrician, so he naturally had a talent with 3-D spacial relationships.

I could go on with story after story, but the point is that each of us was born with a series of talents, and has developed a set of skills across multiple spectrums. If we could weave a thread through ALL our superhero strengths and find an environment where we could use them, it would be like being superman on earth – we’d be unstoppable.

What are all your superhero powers?


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Is your current environment full of kryptonite?

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Looking for Your Strengths? Examine Your Weaknesses… (pt. 2 – Guest Post by David Rendall)

By David Rendall: The Rudolph Principle: Discovering Uniqueness by Embracing Weakness Last year I was watching the classic TV version of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer with my daughters and I realized that the story has a lot to teach us about strengths and weaknesses.

Just let the song run through your head for a minute . . .

“Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer had a very shiny nose, and if you ever saw it, you would even say it glows.”

The Rudolph Principle

Rudolph was different. He had a major obvious flaw. This is the same for most of us. We are too impatient or too messy or too silly or too serious.

“All of the other reindeer used to laugh and call him names. They never let poor Rudolph, join in any reindeer games.”

Rudolph’s flaw made him unpopular and led to his rejection and isolation. No one wants to be rejected. So what do we do? We often try to hide our flaws and fix our weaknesses. We become ashamed. We wish that we could just be normal, like everyone else. We want to be accepted, so we try to change. This is just what Rudolph and his parents tried to do. They covered up his nose with a black rubber cone. It didn’t work. The red nose still shined through. It looked like Rudolph was destined for a life of pain and misery, but then the situation changed.

“Then one foggy Christmas Eve, Santa came to say, Rudolph with your nose so bright, won’t you guide my sleigh tonight.”

Rudolph’s nose was a weakness, but it was also a strength in disguise. In the right situation, a “foggy Christmas Eve,” Rudolph’s nose was an irreplaceable advantage. That is why he got the call, from Santa himself, to save Christmas for the whole world.

He didn’t succeed in spite of his weakness; he succeeded because of his weakness. What would have happened to Christmas that year if Rudolph had gone to Beverly Hills for a nose job?

“Then all the reindeer loved him and they shouted out with glee, ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, you’ll go down in history.’”

Rudolph’s legacy, his enduring fame, was a result of his uniqueness.

Do you want more happiness, fulfillment, success and energy? Find your red nose. Look to your apparent weaknesses and flaws. They offer clues to your greatest strengths. Don’t try to hide them or fix them. Just look for the right situation, the one that offers a perfect fit between who you are and what is required. This takes courage, to wait, to endure ridicule, to be rejected by others. But remember the end of the story. Santa called on Rudolph and he saved Christmas.

Looking for Your Strengths? Examine Your Weaknesses… (pt. 1)

Matt Stutzman: IMG_5076

In many ways, Matt Stutzman is just your average guy. A hardworking, married, 33-year old with three children, Matt, like many fathers, goes to work, changes diapers, hunts and fixes cars.

However, unlike most other fathers, Matt Stutzman has no arms. Born with a rare medical condition, Matt has had to learn to navigate life without the benefit of arms, opposable thumbs and everything in between.

Clearly this is a very tangible weakness that created significant adversity for Matt to overcome. Matt had to learn to do all of life’s tasks — mundane or significant — without the benefit of arms and hands. Tying shoes, opening doors, driving, feeding himself, all of this, Matt learned to do with his feet.

What is fascinating about Matt’s story is that in his case, his significant weakness is also an extraordinary and fantastic strength. In 2012, Matt became an Olympic silver medalist and he holds a world record…

…in Archery.

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How is it possible that a man without arms holds a world record in a sport for the “armed”? Matt’s legs and feet are nearly every bit as nimble as the average man’s arms and hands, but are two — or perhaps three — times as strong. So, Matt can shoot more arrows in practice than your average archer without getting tired, use a greater level of resistance on his compound bow when shooting, and hold his aim steadier than, well, anyone on the planet.

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Consider this: Matt’s greatest weakness, when analyzed in a new light, is also his greatest strength.

Seeking to find your strengths? Sometimes the best place to start is in your weaknesses.

What Strength Will You Focus on in 2015?

“It doesn’t take a lot of strength to hang on. It takes a lot of strength to let go.” (J. C. Watts) In 2015, I will focus on developing some relatively newly-discovered strengths and deliberately designing around the well-trodden paths of my weaknesses.

  • Strengths: I will spend more time writing and speaking (a relatively newly-discovered strength). Both of these activities fill me with energy and purpose, and bring color into my life. I have already discussed this with my employer and designed my job description to focus on these areas.
  • Weaknesses: I will stop pretending that I have significant strengths in detail orientation and follow-through. I will rely on people who are strong in these areas, so that I can dream big and still deliver.

Please share: What strength will you focus on in 2015? Or what weakness are you chasing that you will let go or turn over to someone else?  Please share with our community by commenting below.

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The 1, 2, 3's on Leading a Strength-Focused Life

The 1 / 2 / 3's on Leading a Strength-Focused Life

  1. What are your greatest strengths? Do you know what they are? (If not, why not?)

"Each person’s greatest room for growth is in the areas of his/her greatest strength." (Marcus Buckingham)

  1. Is there a strength or talent you have let lie dormant or that you need to focus on in 2015? 

"You will excel only by maximizing your strengths, never by fixing your weaknesses." (Marcus Buckingham)

  1.  Have you been pursuing a weakness at work or in another area of your life you need to let go in 2015? 

"It doesn't take a lot of strength to hang on. It takes a lot of strength to let go." (J. C. Watts)

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