Team-building Lessons from the Justice League


I've been honored to be a guest speaker at University of South Florida's digital marketing class for a few years now. I'm also incredibly proud to have been voted Best Guest Speaker by the students every semester. I put together a custom presentation each semester, because it's fun and because I think the students deserve it, but I use a few favorite slides every time. The Justice League slide is one of them. ... Because superheroes.

I think it's one of the most important slides for the students. More important than content audits and syndication strategies. The Justice League slide is tips on creating, managing and working as part of a team.

Assemble Your Superheroes 

From Gotham and Metropolis to Mars and Themyscira, the Justice League brings the best of the best together.

You can do the same by finding the heroes in each department and inviting them to every brainstorm. Too often marketers brainstorm only with other marketers, or worse, alone at their desks. You may be able to save the day that way, but with a team of superheroes you can save the world every day.

Be Superman

Inevitably, every semester a fellow comic book fan will interrupt my presentation to remind me that Superman wasn't technically the leader of the Justice League. That's kind of my point, I reply. A leader owns every project, but he doesn't do it alone. Superman relied on other team members to lead when their skills made them the best person to do so, but at the end of the day, Superman always felt responsible. For the fate of the world and the safety of his team.

I view managing a creative team similarly. Most days, I could melt into the background and let my team defeat deadlines and knock out awesome ideas. But when things went wrong, or an evil alien from Sales threatened to ruin our project, I was there ... with my heat vision.

Speak Alien Languages

Did you ever notice how all of the superheroes could understand each other? They had translating earbuds. (Google, get on that, will you?) The lesson here is simple: Learn to speak, and to listen, in your team's native tongues. Forgive me, Sales Folks, for the jibe above. I actually love working with Sales. And Design, and Social, and UX, and so on. Like I said, a team of superheroes from across the entire company.

You can understand where Sales is coming from if you know their lingo. This is doubly true for Copy and Design. We work so closely together, yet we speak totally different languages. Translate to relate.

Remember They're Only Human 

The Justice League has aliens, gods, and magical beings. Some heroes have super speed, or intergalactic crime-fighting rings of awesomeness, or can change their size or walk through walls. But there are also some plain old humans. Like Batman.

One of the things I loved about the Justice League was their camaraderie, their friendship. (There is an excellent story in which it is Superman's birthday, and Batman and Diana discuss how hard it is to buy presents for him. Priceless.) 

When you're the leader of a team, it's important to remember that your team is made up of people with lives beyond work. Families, loved ones, stress, bills, dreams, fears, goals and hidden talents. Invest in your team by getting to know them. Empathize when they are stressed. Be the leader who listens, and you'll find your the leader who is listened to.

My favorite member of the Justice League is Hawk Girl, but I haven't come up with a lesson relatable to her yet. Maybe something about speaking softly and carrying a big, magic-crashing mace? 

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