Finding Your Superpower at Work
How to define and invest in the special skills that make you unique.
Padma asked her mentor for advice on standing out in a large organization and her mentor suggested that Padma find her superpower. The only problem? That one special strength wasn’t immediately obvious to Padma; she was good at several things but not sure where she was truly great.
According to Gallup research, people who know their top strengths are six times as likely to say they have the chance to do what they do best every day.
“Your professional superpower is a talent or skill that makes you stand out in your field, either innate or something you’ve honed through education and application,” says Val Olson, a career coach at Korn Ferry Advance. Even though you’re strong in that area, others may possess a similar skill—so your personality and ability to harness your skill make it a unique superpower.
Here’s how to define and use your superpower at work.
Take note of what people say about you.
Your professional superpower could be a competency, domain mastery, or skill. Not everyone knows their superpower. And often, your superpower might come so naturally to you that you aren’t aware of its rarity and usefulness.
“To define your superpower, pay attention to how your direct reports, peers, and manager compliment you at work,” says Frances Weir, a career coach at Korn Ferry Advance. Do you hear that you’re an excellent communicator; are you told that you always say what everyone’s thinking? That could be your superpower. Also, think about how these same groups would describe you when you’re not in the room.
Notice strengths that carry through to different situations.
Perhaps you are a very optimistic person. In leadership, that positive energy could support change management initiatives. In teamwork, an optimistic perspective can keep progress moving forward. On an individual level, a positive outlook can help keep your spirits up while looking for a new role, even in tough circumstances. If you’re optimistic in many settings and circumstances, optimism could be your superpower.
“But keep in mind that a superpower isn’t a superpower in every single setting,” Olson says. For example, agility may be a superpower for a corporate leader in technology, but that same flexibility might not be a strength for a manager in compliance.
Identify what gives you energy.
The workplace isn’t a city on the verge of collapse where only your skill can save millions of lives. If everyone agrees that you’re great at something but you hate doing it, you don’t have to do it! Every person has more than one skill, so the one you make into your superpower should be something you love to express and can sustainably keep doing over time.
If you’re great at engineering but love leading teams and view your superpower as leadership, it seems counterintuitive to take a new individual contributor job as an engineer. Be confident in your superpower, and don’t be afraid to hold out for opportunities that let you express it. You’ll be happier in the long run.
Make your superpower into your personal brand.
Your superpower is based on who you are and what you can do, while your personal brand is how you make it known. Once you know your superpower, discuss opportunities to use or further develop it in development conversations with your boss. “Establish yourself as the go-to person on your team by using your superpower to support others in their time of need,” Weir says. Consider documenting instances where you've put your superpower to good use, writing about it, or helping others develop it.
To further cement your reputation, career experts say to consider building up a few ancillary skills that make your strength even more powerful. If teaching is your superpower, you could add creativity and directness to that foundation.