MRO Magazine

Become an At-work Superhero

By Richard G. Ensman, Jr.   

Human Resources

Your mission: Solve some intractable problem. Put your maintenance team on the map. Launch a great way to reduce downtime. And pull these great accomplishments off just like an old-fashioned superhero...

Your mission: Solve some intractable problem. Put your maintenance team on the map. Launch a great way to reduce downtime. And pull these great accomplishments off just like an old-fashioned superhero.

Now maybe you can’t lift 2,000 pounds of weight or fly through the air like an eagle, but you can still imitate the lofty traits of the superheroes you see in the movies. Here’s how.

*Live your story. Superheroes have rich histories, and live by the lessons they have learned over the years. So can you. Superhero Strategy: Consciously practice the habits that have propelled you to success in the past. And as you lead and coach the people around you, tell simple but powerful stories about what you learned in the past, about the people and situations that influenced you, and about the principles that guide you.

*Perfect the fast costume change. You won’t literally change into a superhero costume in a telephone booth or closet. But industrial superheroes know how to shift their demeanor to ‘action’ mood quickly and decisively. The words and the body language that follow inspire others. Superhero Strategy: Practice the ‘costume changes’ you need when you’re facing a compelling problem or opportunity. These might include suddenly-convened ‘opportunity meetings’, a special sign on your door, a formal emergency response process, or simply a get-to-the-bottom-line style of managing.


*Leap tall problems in a single bound. When an obstacle blocks your path, you can chip away at it for days or weeks, or longer. Or you can leap over it. Superhero Strategy: Reduce the problem to its essentials, and lead the charge in the most brutally simple manner possible. Need to contact many suppliers about a complex new piece of machinery, for example? You could spend weeks doing this through the usual communication channels — or you and your people could schedule a single marathon phoning session.

*Move faster than a speeding bullet. Well, not literally. But when you’re facing something big, you need to move very fast. Your speed and conviction will move others. Superhero Strategy: When someone brings a problem to your attention, straighten up, ask decisive questions, and then … move. Pick up the telephone to call an emergency meeting. Or offer a decisive instruction about the next three steps that need to happen. Put clear, concise and early deadlines on everything.

*Rely on Robin (or some other trusted assistant). Batman had his Robin. Even solitary figures like Superman and Spiderman had a few lesser humans they occasionally trusted to carry out designated tasks. Business superheroes know that, whatever their strengths, they need the time and expertise of others to make things happen. Superhero Strategy: Inventory the strengths and weaknesses of the people around you. When you need help with a project, pick the right person. For example, if you’re confronted with an escalating vendor conflict, call on an employee or colleague with spectacular human relations skills.

*Get mobile. No, you don’t need a Batmobile. But like superheroes of the movies, you need to be able to move quickly and adeptly — and plant yourself in the midst of any situation that needs your expertise and leadership. Superhero Strategy: Identify each of the communication tools at your disposal — from land lines to instant messaging. Designate at least one tool as your ’emergency vehicle’, and let the people around you know how it will be used when fast action is needed.

*Fly to the best vantage point. You can’t fly through the sky, but you can pick strategic vantage points that let you catch the important action. Superhero Strategy: When you need to find out what’s really going on, where would you go? Your toolroom? Clerical workspace? The water cooler? Your best supplier’s office? Pick that key location and hasten there whenever you can make a difference.

*Avoid evil potions. Remember Superman? He could perform super-human feats and was impervious to everything except one substance — kryptonite. Even the best leaders and managers can be harmed by the managerial equivalent of evil potions and spells. Superhero Strategy: Periodically assess your strengths and weaknesses, whether it’s through a supervisory appraisal, mentor or coaching relationship, or even a self-assessment. Note where you sometimes fall down. Then identify the steps you must take to compensate for your weaknesses, and surround yourself with the people and resources you need to perform best when you must be at your best.

Richard G. Ensman, Jr., is a regular contributor to Machinery & Equipment MRO.


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