This employee is a smart in dress and intellect and he knows it. He knows everything and knows he does as well. He’s comfortable in his job in so far as he’s been here a few years – more than long enough to get a reputation as a 'bit of a know-all' but useful in terms of getting the results the senior management want. He knows he’s good, and isn’t afraid to let everyone know he’s superior. He doesn’t do it overtly, but there’s a danger he could come across as a little smug.
However useful this Office Superman is to the company, it might make you feel a little intimidated. Imagine feeling uncomfortable sitting next to such a respected (albeit a little sniggered at for his attitude) person. But, if you play your cards right, you can work this challenging situation to your professional benefit.
First: Double check their status
Are they actually who they say they are? Are they senior or just a tricksy newbie who’s just that bit longer in the job that you and wants to lord it over someone? It's worth looking into, esepcially if you're new. Take a look at their job title – it should be on their email signature if your company IT policies are up to date. Also, ask around. A casual “what does Charles do here?”, “which team does Bruce work in?” or “how long has Clark been working here?”
Extra points if you can tell me who these undercover superheroes are…
Then, take a piece of confidence training
Take note of how this Superman portrays confidence. They may be involved in high-level client meetings or negotiations and need to walk confident. He's not hurried, and never looks flustered. This comes with paptience, breathing and, yes, confidence.
If you don’t feel particularly confident in an aspect of your work (e.g. presenting information to a group of colleagues, meeting face to face with contractors), take a leaf out of this person’s book. Copy their body language when you’re in less formal meetings to practice giving off the right impression: you’re paying attention, listening, engaged and you understand the content. Try to relax, speak calmly and this will only improve the illusion (!!) that you are in control. Give your responses to emails and in conversations in a considered manner, and give things due attention. This is one of the ways Superman has learned to fly, but could easily become his kryptonite if he gets too cocky.
Remember, ageing is inevitable -- even Superman ages - but having fewer years under YOUR caped belt is difficult to defend sometimes.
This is a slightly harder characteristic of the Office Superman to conquer. They are generally older than the person who thinks they hold this prestigious hero label, as ‘superhero’ newbies don’t generally exist, unless they’re high level management brought in to save the day across the company. Sure, you can impress new colleagues and prove yourself when you’re new, young or old, but with age comes wisdom (in most cases!) and experience – essential in most job roles.
Unfortunately, you and I can’t do anything about Superman’s age or your own age, but there are again things you can learn from Superman to help your age seem less of a barrier to success.
- Dress for the office – if you have a young face, try to dress more professionally than you would normally go for. It will make you seem a little older in a positive way if you wear a blazer (ladies) or a tie (gents), for example. Men, try growing a beard.
- Age isn’t always a barrier. What you think is required or desired for a post/duty may not be what the Director has in mind. The older, more experienced cape-donning few might not get a look-in because they’re a bit like dinosaurs! Ultimately, it's your work ethic and attitude that your company should care about, not how many wrinkles you have.
- Remind your colleagues that you have a lot to offer, even if you don’t have decades of experience in the industry. This could be done, for example, by leading the way on "new fangled, young persons' game of social media" for the company, introducing a new IT idea, or bringing fresh experiences in your field to the department.
- Put yourself forward for training opportunities. Be a little selective about which ones you sign up to, but more often than not, if your boss thinks it would be useful, it will be. Something to add to your CV, if nothing else!
Note: Try to think of some intelligent questions before you arrive on site – you’ll look more interested and intelligent if you ask questions on theme. Also, always send a “thank you” email to your host or guide the following morning. They will appreciate the thought and you’ll look extra good.
- Remember the confidence tips above. If you’re confident, you will go a lot further.
The Superman in my office has awesome spreadsheets. They are informative, useful, and they prove how much he is worth to the company in real terms of profit and savings. I’ve learned a lot from being briefed on a complicated data sheet he’s allowing me access to; everything from spreadsheet formatting tips on email, to small nuggets of info about the organisation.
I’ve recently learned how to do a mail merge email from this guy too. He sent a fancy email to our department of 70+ people which was tailored to them and addressed personally – very clever. I had to get in on this knowledge, so I sidled up to him one morning when he was drinking tea and asked if he could show me the technique. Being Superman, he was open to showing me how it’s done, and I know I will use this skill in the future.
However, do remember you probably have something to offer these superheroes, too. Engage with them while you’re working together and they’ll pick up where your strengths are, if they have their brains switched on. Also, chat round the water cooler or kettle – getting to know them a bit personally can open up doors for you in many ways inside (and out!) of the office walls.
And don't forget the less 'super' ones in the office - they may be younger, less of a presence, but everyone has something to offer and might be able to help you develop at work... that's why the boss employed them!
I am a big advocate for making the most of your colleagues and friends’ experience – especially if you’re new to the job. Someone who’s had more years in the industry than you can offer a lot to you as a mentor, or even just as a desk neighbour. You can pick up skills from telephone manner to legal knowledge in your sector, just by tactfully keeping an ear open. It’s easy and no one will notice you’re improving on personal and professional skills which might be a little rusty.
If Superman is older, wiser, more experienced, capitalise on it. Think of something specific he or she might be able to help you with and ask for a few minutes of their time when they’re free.
Yes, your Office Superman is intimidating. He or she might not be especially approachable and you might not want to “bother” them with your questions or interest, but you know they would jump at the chance of showing someone how efficient, useful and employable he is. You won’t come away able with X-Ray vision, but you’ll learn a lot of more useful things for the workplace.
Superman is definitely an asset to the team. Don’t be intimidated – use him!
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