Superman vs. Achilles: Why self-awareness is crucial for a leader


superman vs achilles“He who knows the universe and does not know himself knows nothing.” –Jean de la Fontaine, 1679

Self-awareness is crucial for success, whatever your leadership role. It makes sense that you can’t manage what you don’t recognize and understand. “If you aren’t aware of what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and the way it’s affecting others, you can’t change.” (Stein, S. and Book, H., 2011. The EQ Edge: Emotional intelligence and your success.)

According to a study conducted by Green Peak Partners and Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, a high self-awareness score was the strongest predictor of overall success. “Executives who are aware of their weaknesses are often better able to hire subordinates who perform well in areas in which the leader lacks acumen.”

In The Element of Ethics by W. Brad Johnson and Charles R. Ridley the authors state:

No one can claim not to have weakness. From the mightiest of men and women to the meekest, having vulnerabilities comes with the territory of being human. Yet, having a weakness is not the most serious problem for most people. Ignoring weakness, discounting vulnerability, and behaving like one is invincible is a more serous problem. It can be fatal. (Johnson and Ridley, Kindle location 520).

Consider Superman and Achilles of Troy.

Superman. He is faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound! He epitomizes what some might call a great leader. Perhaps his greatest secret power is self-awareness. He leverages his strengths and knows his one weakness is kryptonite. To lead well, leaders must know themselves.

On the other hand (or foot), consider Achilles. He was the central character in Homer’s Illiad and the the greatest hero of the Trojan War. In Greek mythology, it was foretold that Achilles would die an early death. To spare him from this fate, his mother Thetis took her baby to the River Styx which had the power to make him invulnerable. Thetis held Achilles by the heel as she dipped him in the river, unknowingly leaving that part of his body not washed by the magical waters. He lead and conquered in many battles, but in one war, he died shortly after being struck in the heel by a poisonous arrow.  Wikipedia defines an Achilles heel as a “deadly weakness in spite of overall strength, which can actually or potentially lead to downfall.” Lack of self-awareness led to Achilles’ death.

Both Superman and Achilles had great strengths; they both had weaknesses. Superman was aware of his weakness, but Achilles was not, and that made the difference!

Over the years, a few self-awareness tools have helped me:

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator or MBTI, makes the theory of psychological types described by C. G. Jung understandable and useful in people’s lives. You can take the 16 Personalities quiz for free.

StrengthsFinder Assessment will give you your top five talents along with ways to understand and develop those talents into strengths. You can see the list of the 34 talents here.

Reflected Best Self exercise gives you feedback on what you contributed when people have seen you at your best! This is a very encouraging exercise I did during my M.A. Read a short summary of Reflected Best Self.

EQi, or emotional intelligence can be taken by contacting Multi Health Systems.

Motivational Core or MCore is a powerful assessment that draws out and explains the central themes of our motivational pattern through personal narrative.

Birkman is a powerful tool that will help you identify your passions, behaviors, motivations and interests.

EnneagramThe Enneagram of Personality is a personality typing system that consists of nine distinct types. Each type has a unique set of motivations, fears, and desires.

Queendom.com offers many other free tests, quizzes and assessments on personality, relationships, career, lifestyles and health.

A simple tool I often use for people with whom I have worked is to get feedback: What should I start doing? What should I stop doing? What should I continue doing?

Asking questions is a good way to gain self-awareness: How are you experiencing me? What is it like to sit on the other side of me?

What tools are you aware of that have helped you become more self-aware?

Some related articles:

Photos Credits:

  • Achilles – Wikimedia Commons by Wilhelm Wandschneider;
  • Superman – Wikimedia Commons
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About Steve Morgan

I work in Global Leadership Development with Cru with my wife, Terry. We have been married 30 years and have 4 grown children. We have a Masters in Global Leadership together through Azusa Pacific University. I generally write about 5 “L’s: Living Well, Loving Deeply, Learning Continuously, Leading Courageously and Leaving a Legacy. I occasionally write about Laughing Loudly. Subscribe on the right side to receive an email whenever there is a new post. I invite you to leave your comments so we can dialogue on the various topics and learn from each other. If you are new to the site, you might start with looking at some of the top posts or doing a search on the right side bar for one of the 5 “L’s” that interest you. Or you can view the blog archives for topics. Photo Credit: sarahjoellephotography.com
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2 Responses to Superman vs. Achilles: Why self-awareness is crucial for a leader

  1. Pingback: Ethnic Diversity and Leadership | Leader Impact

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