GREAT LEADERS

Be the Hero Your Employees Need (Captain America Style)

He may be a comic book character, but the Star-Spangled Avenger is a superlative role model for bosses everywhere.
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If you've seen The Avengers or either of the Captain America movies, you probably noticed that Captain America immediately and effortlessly establishes himself as the leader of every group in which he's involved. Take note, bosses, and learn how it's done:

1. He has a moral center.

Captain America's sense of right and wrong is a personality trait, rather than something he's striving to achieve. Though he's often presented with moral dilemmas, he always tries to do the right thing, even when doing so is difficult.

Other people--even those who are far smarter and stronger--are drawn to trust Captain America and to follow his leadership because, by doing so, they feel more certain that they'll be doing the right thing, too.

The same is very true in business, too. Employees may temporarily follow a psychopath (somebody without a moral center), but the ones who aren't psychopaths themselves will always quit as soon as they realize the person's true colors.

2. He stands for something.

Ever since his creation as a comic book character in the 1940s, Captain America has been written as a person who embodies what's best about the United States, traits such as individualism, justice, and fairness.

However, though his costume is based upon the U.S. flag, Captain America is not a "my country right or wrong" flag-waver. When the U.S. government falls short of its ideals, Captain America is the first to oppose it.

Great bosses are the same way. They don't just post a mission statement; they expect employees--and themselves--to actually do what's on that statement, such as provide great customer service and create excellent products.

3. He shuns the limelight.

For a famous guy who wears a costume that's immediately recognizable, Captain America is surprisingly modest. You never see him doing a victory dance or spiking the ball at the end of a winning play.

Quite the contrary. When not on duty, Captain America seeks to be anonymous, to blend into the woodwork. And he's always generous in his praise of the team, while minimizing his own contributions.

Despite the drumbeat of personal branding, the best bosses are that way, too. They don't go on and on about themselves and their accomplishments. They're all about creating a team that wins, not about winning for themselves.

4. He protects his team.

It's no accident that Captain America's main weapon is a shield, which he uses to preserve and protect his team members, as well as bystanders.

In the most recent film, for example, his commitment to his team extends even to a former friend who poses a great danger to himself and everyone else.

Great bosses do the same. When weirdness happens up the chain, they do their utmost to protect the team from the fallout. They earn employee loyalty by showing loyalty first.

5. He adapts to strengths and weaknesses.

Whether he's leading human soldiers or superhuman heroes, Captain America figures out who's likely to succeed at a given task and makes job assignments accordingly (e.g., "Hulk: Smash.")

This requires understanding of limitations as well as capability. Captain America doesn't expect Tony Stark (Iron Man) to overcome his huge ego nor Natasha Romanova (Black Widow) to punch through brick walls.

Great bosses do this all the time. Rather than treating people as interchangeable cogs, they look to place employees in roles where they're mostly likely to become the workplace heroes that they truly want to be.

Preorder my new book, Business Without the Bullsh*t, and get an exclusive bonus chapter (for you and a friend) as well as a signed bookplate. Details HERE.

IMAGE: Courtesy Marvel Entertainment
Last updated: Apr 15, 2014

GEOFFREY JAMES | Columnist

Geoffrey James is an author, speaker, and award-winning blogger. Originally a system architect, brand manager, and industry analyst inside two Fortune 100 companies, he's interviewed over a thousand successful executives, managers, entrepreneurs, and gurus to discover how business really works. His most recent book is "Business Without the Bullsh*t: 49 Secrets and Shortcuts that You Need to Know."

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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