Superman Syndrome

Recognizing Your Kryptonite

What if you knew you were special? There was a sense that you were chosen, unique. You were smarter than most everyone around you? Like superman, what if you believed you were different than everyone else and you had a unique, unparalleled gift to change the world? What would you do? How would it influence the way you engaged others? Looked at problems?

Distinct from the medical definition of an unusual condition, the urban dictionary defines the Superman Syndrome assaviour: the person constantly who feels the urge to try and help or "save" others, comforting them in times of distress whenever possible”. Someone who feels the need to “save” the day, be the expert or have the answers.


The syndrome is evident in most of us at different times. We all have the need to be acknowledged, to be respected for our contributions, to even express our expertise “proving” our worth. Yet, rather than producing admirable outcomes like stopping trains from crashing into schools or rescuing damsels in distress, this expression of the syndrome more often than not produces negative results for both the individual exhibiting it and those they are intending to save.


Superman can be hyper focused. Problems are quickly assessed. Methods to address the problems quickly defined. Solutions are pursued with a fervor to be both impressive and first among perceived competitors. Workload is looked upon as a challenge to be overcome and, as such, long hours and stress are worn as badges of honor. There is nothing they are incapable of accomplishing and in the name of efficiency, they are the best person to do it – after all if you want it done right, do it yourself.


This commonly refers to a workaholic. Someone who prefers to do everything themselves. Someone who has all of the answers and may be an expert in their respective fields. In a typical workplace, this is often a manager or possible some other figure of authority

Many times, others will marvel at the commitment, the confidence, the ability to take on so much reinforcing the belief that the behaviors are valued and necessary to the individual and organizational success. But are they? Are they valued? Are they necessary? Are they the best approach or the just the most satisfying to the individual in the moment?

Consider a few of the possible negative implications associated with this behavior.

1) Leadership - An unwillingness to delegate; develop others

2) Strategy - Dedicating self and resources to the wrong problem

3) Vision – Unwillingness to see or acknowledge potential threats to the business


Effective leadership, among other things, is a result of focusing on your value proposition. Doing those things that deliver high value returns to the business – things unique to you. The individual who attempts to “do it all”, fails to do what they do best. Without delegating, bandwidth for the important things is compromised and others don’t have the opportunity to develop in key areas. By letting go of those things that other can (or should) do, leaders allow themselves the necessary space to be more creative, engage more fully with others and deliver on the value that the organization truly expects.


Through improved delegation, leaders have an opportunity to effectively evaluate “problems” to determine the nexus of the issue. Rather than simply accepting the problem as stated. The incremental bandwidth allows them to approach problems with a presence and mindfulness that counters the “need to solve it” with an openness to define it. This allows the leader to better ask the questions that clarify the real problem, setting aside any assumptions or bias’, and to ensure that the defined strategy to address the issue is appropriate to the solution.


Finally, leaders who fall prey to the syndrome, typically have a derailer (stress related behavior) that limits their ability to consider the opinions of others due to the high level of confidence in their own. Their willingness to engage in an open dialogue and evaluate input on its merit is compromised, leaving them susceptible to repeating mistakes and ignoring potential threats which can compromise strategy development, operational effectiveness and response to market dynamics.


Superman/woman, is celebrated in our culture for the courage, integrity and selflessness portrayed – the same characteristics that contribute to excellence in leadership. But when superman encounters kryptonite, powers are rendered useless. Failure to recognize when your need to be superman overshadows your need to lead will ultimately prove to be your kryptonite and render you powerless in leadership. It’s admittedly difficult to see traits in ourselves without feedback or an outside perspective. Clark had Lois, who are you listening to? If you don’t have a trusted resource for confidential feedback that challenges you to higher levels of performance, consider an executive coach. We’ll help you find ways to keep kryptonite at bay and strengthen your brand.