You may not carry a shield, and you may not go to work in spangly blue tights. (At least, we hope not.) That said, you can still learn a lot from Captain America about what it takes to be a good manager.
In case you somehow missed the comic books, television series, or movies, Captain America was a 90-pound weakling who really, really wanted to join the Army in the 1940s—enough to undergo a scientific experiment that buffed him out big-time and led to him eventually leading the Avengers in their fight for truth and justice.
Keep in mind that Captain America isn’t just a member of the Avengers, he heads up the Avengers. (Though as he would say, that doesn’t mean he leads them, it means he serves them.) He’s not a god like Thor, as strong as the Hulk, or as smart as Tony Stark’s Iron Man, but nevertheless, they look to him as a leader.
“Through his extensive military training, Steve Rogers (the alter ego of Captain America) is well-equipped to handle a wide range of battlefield scenarios,” writes Rob Frappier in ScreenRant in an explanation of why Captain America heads up the Avengers. “He’s also proven that he can lead men into battle.”
In contrast, Thor and Stark are too ego-driven and don’t necessarily work well on a team.
Given that, what can Captain America teach you about leading a team?
Captain America does the honorable thing.
Always. Captain America is so gung-ho that he would be ridiculous if he wasn’t so serious about it. Even when people tease him about it, he doesn’t care.
“Captain America’s sense of right and wrong is a personality trait, rather than something he’s striving to achieve,” writes Geoffrey James in Inc. “Though he’s often presented with moral dilemmas, he always tries to do the right thing, even when doing so is difficult. Other people–even those who are far smarter and stronger–are drawn to trust Captain America and to follow his leadership because, by doing so, they feel more certain that they’ll be doing the right thing, too.”
Captain America is loyal to his team.
The bosses who evoke the most loyalty are the ones that team members can count on to have their back, and Captain America is no exception.
“It’s no accident that Captain America’s main weapon is a shield, which he uses to preserve and protect his team members, as well as bystanders,” James writes, noting that in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, “his commitment to his team extends even to a former friend who poses a great danger to himself and everyone else.”
Captain America knows how to make the best use of his team.
One scene in the first Avengers movie is such a great example that even his seven-year-old son gets it, writes Brian Markovitz, an attorney in Joseph, Greenwald & Laake’s Civil Litigation Group.
When aliens invade New York, the team looks to Captain America for their assignments. The final Avenger is the Hulk. His job? Perfectly suited to his abilities: “Hulk: Smash.”
This got Markovitz’ son’s attention. “After the movie, he said to me, ‘Captain America is the best Avenger.’ He explained that Cap isn’t the fastest or strongest, and he can’t fly. Yet, he further clarified (and I’m paraphrasing of course) that Cap is a great leader because he puts his team members into positions where they can succeed. ‘Hulk is good at smashing so he told Hulk to smash,’ my son said.”
Captain America embraces his team’s diversity.
While it might be tempting to assign team members to jobs they don’t want to do, even if it’s through benevolent impulses such as teaching them new things, resist the impulse.
“Not everybody may have super-soldier class abilities. Every team needs people to contribute different strengths,” writes Daniel Dern in The Fast Track. “Look for skills that complement existing team members instead of asking everyone to ‘fit in’ by duplicating abilities. Some team members are great at figuring out how things fit together, or good at identifying what’s missing. Some excel at contingency planning. Welcome all of them and embrace the diversity.”
Captain America isn’t afraid of letting his team shine.
Embracing diversity also means, incidentally, that Captain America isn’t afraid to have people bigger, stronger or smarter than he is on his team. In fact, it’s Captain America’s regular guy-ness that makes him such a good leader.
“Put simply, he’s just a kid from Brooklyn,” Frappier writes. “Thor is, for all intents and purposes, an alien to our world. Likewise, Tony Stark, with his brilliant mind and billions of dollars, is completely disconnected from the everyday world. Captain America, on the other hand, understands what’s at risk when the world is under attack, because when it comes down to it, he’s just a regular guy.”
Finally, don’t underestimate the fact that Captain America is really excellent at branding, even if he doesn’t intend to be. Just hear the words “Captain America” and you know what the guy is all about, blue spangled tights and all. That doesn’t mean you need to start wearing tights in the office, but there’s nothing wrong with having a name, a color, or a uniform for your team to help build camaraderie.
If that all seems like pretty big shoes to fill, don’t worry too much. Nobody’s expecting you to save the world. Just their project.
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