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EXCLUSIVE: Interview with David Kahn Author of Cape, Spandex, Briefcase: Leadership Lessons from Superheroes

Dr. David Kahn shares his passion for leadership and comics with a well-blended story of how we can learn from comics and each other how to effectively lead.  Instead of a lecture on what it takes to be a great leader in the work force, David Kahn takes us on a journey through a young man’s trial to become an effective leader in his company. 

For the casual comic book reader this is an easy read.  Besides the great insight of what it takes to be a great leader Cape, Spandex, Briefcase: Leadership Lessons from Superheroes is a great historical piece of some of the most important characters in comic book history.  David displays in his story the quality and traits of our favorite superheroes and what really makes them a superhero.

For the business entrepreneur this story provides a valuable lesson that we can always take an opportunity to learn valuable life lessons from everyone.  Cape, Spandex, Briefcase: Leadership Lessons from Superheroes is able to show the most common mistakes people make when they are put in a leadership position at work.  By analyzing the aspects of what makes a superhero it is easy for the reader to understand the ideas David puts together of an effective leader. 

Cape, Spandex, Briefcase: Leadership Lessons from Superheroes is a great read for anyone who is passionate about becoming a leader in their field.  I would highly suggest picking up this book for any college graduate. 

Last week I had the great opportunity to sit down with David and talk about this great story.

MICHAEL –When did your passion for comic books begin and what are some of your best memories?

DAVID – My passion for comic books goes back to Super Friends in the late 70s, that’s where it all started. That brought me into comic books, obviously movies like Superman were coming out; then I discovered Batman with Adam West and it just sort of snowball from there and I have been a big fan ever since.

MICHAEL– How did you discover the concept of using Comic Book Hero analogies to Business Leadership?

DAVID – For a while I thought a lot about the similarities between what I was reading in comic books and the things that I experienced in my professional life, but I didn’t vocalize it.  It was just myself thinking about how this exact same thing that I had just read happened in Watchmen was playing out in the boardroom.  That’s how it started.  

I do leadership training and organizational development; that’s my professional side, that’s what I do for a living.  I remember one day I was leading a training group and it was really, really boring.  I was in charge and I was boring myself, not a good place to start!   Then, it sort of happened, I asked the group – what makes Batman such a great leader?  The whole room got quiet and I actually thought I had lost them.  Then, all of a sudden there was an outpour of information.  All the stuff that they weren’t saying when we were just talking about leadership, now that they had an example that they could grasp to, they were willing to talk.  It started a great conversation and it became something that I started doing more often to get people to talk. 

Obviously, you have to know your crowd.  But, I found it was effective much more often than not; and people didn’t need a lot of in-depth knowledge about the superheroes because I wasn’t going to go deep with these groups.  I just used Spiderman, Batman, Superman, and now you throw in Captain America and what you’ll find is that people know these characters.

MICHAEL– Who is the superhero that represents the perfect leader and which superhero the most flawed as a leader?

DAVID – That’s a tough one.  If you had asked me twenty years ago I would have said Batman, but I know I wasn’t that cool.  I’d like to say Captain America. That’s what I aspire towards.   When you look at all the characters, Captain America is the one who consistently has led a team.  He is definitely the most selfless of all the heroes.  He was leading teams in WWII and he is leading teams now.  In my book I give a lot of examples.  I talk about professor X and his vision. In some ways Professor X is a great leader.  But, in other ways he has manipulated his team and he has done things that are not quite as ethical, and these are things I would not recommend for any leader.

But, as for Captain America, I don’t have any bad examples.  Captain America is the model that we should aspire towards

MICHAEL– In your book you start with accountability as an important aspect of being a leader.  Did you start with this aspect on purpose?

DAVID – I think it flows that way.  You need to start with accountability, recognizing this is something you want, something you’re willing to do. This can be a leader in your organization, in your church, in your comic book reading group.  Until you do that you cannot create your vision or be as influential as you might otherwise be.

MICHAEL– It seems as this book can really hit home with the millennial generation, the new up and coming business leaders. Was this the target audience you were hoping to attract?

DAVID – It was just a lucky coincidence that it fit so well with early twenty college graduates.  I was really writing it because I was combining two things that I really love.  I wanted to use something that I love like comic books and use it as a metaphor and an example for leadership and combine it with some ideas that I have been building over time and have people actually want to read it.  I wanted to make it entertaining.  You’re going to learn more, you’re going toremember more, if it is something that you enjoy reading.

I’ll tell you, my first draft of this book was a textbook.  It read like a textbook, it was Chapter One – Delegation and here’s a character.  It was not exciting! So, then I added a story and I made it a parable and I was able to throw in a lot more superheroes and a lot more examples and make it more entertaining and hopefully an educational read.

MICHAEL– From your experience what aspect would you say Millennial’s are great at and what aspect would you say Millennial’s struggle the most with?

DAVID – I think Millennials are pretty good at the accountability part.  I think that in almost every generation, early in your career you always think you can take over.  But, once you have more experience you really understand the responsibility that comes along with that.  Based on a lot of the research that I read, I would say competence is the issue with Millennial’s.  They want to grow so fast but they don’t necessarily have the experiences you need to build overtime and it does take time.

MICHAEL– What aspect of being a successful leader would you say is the most important to begin with?

DAVID – I think it starts with listening. That is one of the most effective ways to influence other people.  But, you can’t just rely on listening because then you end up at the back of the rope, if you’re not doing anything active.  You have to know the people that you’re trying to lead and you can’t do that if you’re not paying attention.  If you walk in to a group of people and your whole intent is to move them somewhere but you don’t listen to what they already know and need you will not connect and you are not going to understand how to influence every individual in that room. And it is really about every individual.

It’s not a group of people with one mind.  Everyone in that room has a different need and a different motivator and something they hold close and is important to them.  And, you need to understand what that is by listening and asking questions.

MICHAEL– The majority of the story takes place in a comic book store.  What made you decide to choose this setting for the story?

DAVID – I think it comes from my childhood. I think it comes from having that communal experience.  Listen, I download my share of comic books, but there is something about going into a comic book store and touching something, and talking to people, and doing something that may not show up in my online search. There is something about being in there.  It’s just the smell of it.  It’s an important place.  I feel the same way about bookstores.  You will notice things that you will not experience when you go online.

MICHAEL– Which superheroes would you choose as your company Board of Directors?

David – Oh, wow! That’s a great question.  Obviously, Captain America.  I would say probably maybe Captain Marvel is a good one.  You need one of the brainy acts of the comic world, maybe a Bruce Banner.  So you have Captain America organizing it, he is the head of your board.  You need a Tony Stark, because you need someone that while he is not the best team player, and I am not recommending anyone model their leadership style after him, he is intelligent and he is willing to buck the system and challenge people, so I think you need some of that.  And, you need someone with some heart.  Nightwing, he is an active learner, always trying to learn something new.  He always has new ideas.  He has been trained since he was a kid to take over and he has the heart and intelligence but has an active mind. Very curious and trying to learn.

MICHAEL– Last question, what comic storylineswould you recommend for active readers?

DAVID – I tell everyone they should read Watchmen because it’s a personal favorite. From a leadership perspective there is a Superman series I really enjoy.  Superman: Grounded 701-714.  In this series Superman decides he is not going to use his powers. He is trying to remind himself what is still important about what he does and he wants to reconnect.  He walks around America. He is reconnecting and he is learning and he is doing a lot of things that we are talking about.  He is listening, he is helping people the way they need to be helped and not the way he thinks.  He is asking questions and he is just really paying attention and trying to reconnect.  I think most readers can benefit from these skills.


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Source: David Kahn


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