An Emotional Intelligence Growth Exercise; Who’s Your Superhero and Why?

leadership development | Seattle | Speak Genesis

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As a leadership development coach, it’s well known that cultivating and growing Emotional Intelligence [EI] makes you a better leader and employee, and is crucial to success. In fact, EI is more of an indicator of success than IQ. 

Self-awareness is the core of Emotional Intelligence, and is comprised of three competencies:

  • Emotional self-awareness is your ability to understand your emotions and recognize their impact on your work performance and relationships.
  • Accurate self-assessment is your ability to evaluate your strengths and limitations.
  • Self-confidence is possessing a strong sense of self-worth. 

Growing your EI is not quick or easy, and takes perseverance, critical self-reflection. a commitment to continual improvement,  

The ‘Who is your superhero’ exercise reveals our inner-most core values as we typically hold in high esteem those whose value systems align with our own. Understanding this allows for self-reflection and potential growth.

Before continuing, please consider who you most respect; It can be a historical figure or any living person.  

Martin Luther King is my 'superhero.' What does that teach me about myself, and my values?

King’s story begins with a bus ride which helped to shape him into the man he would become. He was traveling a long distance on a bus with his teacher. The driver ordered him and his group to stand so that White passengers could be seated. He recalled, ‘I decided not to move at all,’ but his teacher insisted that they obey the law. They stood in the aisle for the next 90 miles. It was a moment he vowed never to forget, and he didn’t.

King first learned of Gandhi’s application of nonviolence as a seminary student. He became a Baptist preacher and, as a Christian, applied the teachings of Jesus and to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” He adopted Gandhi’s idea that oppressed people could use truth and love as weapons in their struggle for justice.

King's adaptation that's most mind-blowing.

“In his 1958 book Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story, King laid out the principles of nonviolence he’d employed during the boycott. He affirmed that it is possible to resist evil without resorting to violence and to oppose evil itself without opposing the people committing evil. He also wrote that people who practice nonviolence must be willing to suffer without retaliation, internal or external: “The nonviolent resister not only refuses to shoot his opponent but he also refuses to hate him.”

Who’d ever think that using truth and love as weapons could win the fight for the oppressed? Gandhi and King both did this successfully.

The deep South in the 1960s.

In the 1960s, segregation is the law in the deep South. Schools, churches, parks, stores, restaurants, and neighborhoods were separate for Blacks and Whites. Blacks didn’t dare enter a ‘whites-only’ establishment without being attacked or killed.

The South was especially hostile and violent. The KKK had supreme power and killed without consequences. Blacks were considered chattel, ‘a thing to be owned,’ viewed no different than livestock, and treated as subhuman. If Blacks protested or did anything to displease Whites, they would be lynched, shot, or their homes burned to the ground, with them inside, and the doors barricaded shut. It was a dark and bloody time—fighting prejudice required tremendous bravery.

King's speeches moves people into action.

MLK is a skilled and talented orator who moves his listeners, grabbing their hearts, minds, and souls with his words and delivery. These two speeches are ranked by many as the top 10 speeches of all time. “I have a dream,” “that one day man will be judge not by the color of his skin but by the content of his character.”

He also delivers, “I’ve been to the mountaintop.”  These speeches inspire feeling, movement, and change. 

Selma is a defining moment.

Selma was a defining moment in Blacks’ plight for justice. A protestor is chased into a cafe with this mother, and police attack the mother. Her son tries to protect her, and he is shot dead. The next day 600 men, women, and children gathered on March 7, 1965. They intend to march from Selma to Montgomery peacefully, carrying the protestor’s body and lay him on the steps of the capital; they have no weapons. They must cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge, and on the other side await local and state law enforcement in riot gear, batons, and shields, wearing gas masks, with police dogs. The protestors bravely cross the bridge and are told to turn back. They are then brutally attacked and beaten with clubs, gassed, ravaged by the dogs, and shot; 14 died that day on what’s now known as ‘Bloody Sunday.’

Television cameras and cameras documented the entire event as the nation watches in utter horror. After the march, President Johnson issued an immediate statement, “deploring the brutality with which a number of Negro citizens of Alabama were treated”. He also promised to send a voting rights bill to Congress that week, although it took him until March 15.

MLK used truth and love as his only weapons and didn’t hate his oppressors. Can you imagine the inner strength that would require? It’s literally ‘loving your enemy.’

King wanted what the constitution promised; “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  

On April 4, 1968, MLK was fatally shot while in Memphis, Tennessee; he was 39 years old. The day before, King gave his last sermon, saying, “We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop … And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the promised land.” King foreshadowed his death the day before he died.  

MLK is my choice because he used truth and love as his weapons, and loved his enemies. He never deviated from his mission and devoted his life to the cause of equality. Where would America be now, if not for his efforts?  

Here are King’s core values as evidenced by his writings and deeds:

  • love for humankind
  • truth
  • justice
  • bravery/strength
  • determination and perseverance

His core values align with mine, so it’s no wonder that I hold him in such high esteem. I’m sure the fact that he’s such a skilled speaker only strengthens my view of him.

Who’s your ‘superhero?” What are their top  core values? Share it with the group! 

Kim VanBorkulo is a coach; leadership development, public speaking, executive, and startup

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