Put away your red cape.
Forget about your alter ego.
And cancel the order on those purple spandex tights.
Being a hero isn’t what the comic books portray it as.
Here’s the reality: To live heroically is to consistently commit to (and act from) the best, highest version of yourself—every day.
That’s the real superpower.
Here are some ideas to help you become a hero to the people who matter:
1. Decide to matter. In his book Coaching the Artist Within, Eric Maisel writes passionately about making meaning. “There is no meaning until you make it,” he says. “Don’t sit around waiting for the universe, some guru or some book to shape your personal path. Proclaim your intention to live meaningfully and authentically.” Lesson learned: mattering is a decision. If you don’t decide to matter, you end up a desperate revolutionary without a cause, exhausted by endless effort that doesn’t count. Not very heroic. Remember: When each pulse is filled with significance, you’re always seen as a hero—even if only in your own eyes. Have you decided to matter yet?
2. Be a mirror. Being a hero doesn’t mean you have to do something great. Being a hero means you have to be the mirror that reflects (and infects) people with their own ability to do something great. That’s the big misconception: heroes are less concerned with being successful and more focused on who is successful because of them. It’s not who you know—it’s whose life is noticeably better because they know you.
One strategy is to ask people “territory questions.” According to Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art, your territory is the place, arena, or activity where the sustenance comes from the act itself—not from the impression it makes on others. And if you ask people questions like, “If you were feeling really anxious, what would you do?” and “If you were the last person on earth, what would you still do every day?” you gain a greater understanding of where their territory is. Then, you reflect it back to them. Chances are, they are too close to themselves to see it. Do that, and people will thank you forever. How do you inspire others of a vision of what they can contribute?
3. Become a walking permission slip. People want someone who makes it okay: okay to do what they think is silly; okay to be their true self when the alternative is more popular; and okay to feel an emotion that exposes their vulnerability. This reminds me of a presentation I gave a few years back. After the program, a woman came up and hugged me. In tears. For twelve seconds. This has happened maybe five times in my career. But if you can believe it, what she thanked me for wasn’t the content of the speech, but the fact that I was wearing jeans and sandals during the speech. (Pretty standard for my brand.) Anyway, Susan told me that she’d been wrestling with the option of dressing in a more casual, relaxed, and unique fashion to work, but didn’t have the courage to make the switch. But apparently, after seeing my presentation, Susan felt as if I’d given her permission to do so. Lesson learned: When you begin to live your authentic life, you give people subtle permission that it’s okay for them to do the same. You don’t need to wear sandals; you just need to express yourself freely and fully. How are you validating people?
4. Give your voice widening access. As we’ve already learned, being a hero isn’t all about you. However, if you want to champion ideas, challenge hearts, and change minds, you’ve got to step into (some of) the spotlight. Otherwise you’re just winking in the dark. The secret is to build a unique platform for reaching the people who matter. Keep in mind the word “platform” is traditionally used to describe the bridge between writers and readers. Not anymore. In my experience, platform is your entire engine of visibility, online or offline. And whether you want to be a hero to your customers and employees, to your children and friends, or to your readers and listeners, visibility is absolutely essential. Your voice must be accessible to them. From daily blogs to weekly family dinners to monthly staff meetings to quarterly vacations, your challenge is to build your platform based on the way your people prefer to be reached. Only then will you be able to infect them with a vision of what they can do. How are you making people aware of your voice?
5. Make others look like heroes. Every time I give a speech, I have two primary responsibilities: first, to be amazing; and second, to make the person who booked me look like a hero. Because in the back of my mind, I know what she’s thinking in the back of her mind: will this guy deliver? That’s what happens anytime someone hires, books, engages or commissions you—they put their butt on the line. If you suck, they look stupid; and if they look stupid, they need a new job. For that reason, you have to establish expectational clarity. You have to telegraph your reliability. And you have to deliver a series of small promises consistently. The only caveat is, they have to be the right promises. You get no brownie points for delivering what the customer doesn’t ask for or doesn’t need. Focus on that, and you’ll make heroes out of the people who matter. Who have you made your cohort in heroic crime?
Remember: The world will never not need heroes.
From customers to employees, from children to family members, and from readers to listeners, I challenge you to commit to being somebody’s hero today.
Who knows? Maybe you won’t even need those purple spandex tights after all.