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What Wonder Woman Teaches Us About How to Be a Leader.

Superhero secrets for pushing boundaries in the workplace.
Image: Wonder Woman
Take a page from Wonder Woman’s playbook when forging ahead in your career. Clay Enos / TM & (C) DC Comics
/ Source: NBC News

Wonder Woman isn’t just saving the world — she’s already changing it. In the short time since the film has been released, it has already raised the bar, setting a new box office record for a movie directed by a woman, and serving as a conversation starter on topics ranging from feminism to representation in the media. (And yes, it has also motivated some protests against all female screenings of the film.)

Though we can’t exactly relate to all of Diana Prince’s day-to-day to day experiences (when was the last time you used a lasso of truth?), there are certainly a handful of lessons women can learn from her take-no-guff attitude.

Take a page from Wonder Woman’s playbook with these tips for success that will help you nail the leading role in the story of your own career.

Our leaps of faith may not exactly involve saving the entire planet, but they can be just as terrifying.

Don’t take no for an answer

When Diana was growing up on Themyscira, a paradise-like island of all women, her mother, Queen Hippolyta, forbid her from training as a warrior. But Diana didn't abandon her true passion. Instead, she turned to her aunt, General Antiope, to help teach her to fight in secret. Just because the first answer you get is a no, doesn’t mean that you should instantly accept it. (Remember how Diana also crossed “No Man’s Land” in the film to save a small European town during the war, even though no one had been able to do so before?) The same concept applies to our career path — we need to listen to ourselves, not other people, when making decisions, says Annie Lin, founder of career consulting firm New York Life Coaching.

“When it comes to career choice, we have to learn to listen to our own inner guidance: What is my deep motivation?” Lin says. “What really interests me? No one else has access to that information but [us] … Every human invention starts with a thought. If you have an idea that hasn’t been done before, you have downloaded the possibility of the future. You have been called to step up and to bring it to fruition.”

Find mentors who will push you

Once Diana gets the blessing from her mother to learn how to fight, General Antiope doesn’t hold back in pushing her niece. This meant calling Diana out when she let her guard down and reminding her that she was stronger than she realized. Finding a mentor who believes in you and will challenge you is crucial to getting ahead, according to Cynthia Marco-Scanlon, Ph.D., former president of the National Career Development Association and career counselor.

To get one, you have to be willing to take the initiative, she says. “You’re not going to have somebody sit in your lap that will say ‘I want to be your mentor,’” Marco-Scanlon says. “Find a mentor that has characteristics you look up to and approach that person … And it doesn’t have to be in a place you work. It can be somebody you know through a professional organization, a friend of the family or somebody within your family. It should be somebody that is already doing something that you’d like to do.”

Image: Gal Gadot in a scene from "Wonder Woman"
There's no sense of fulfillment in playing it safe.Clay Enos / Warner Bros. Entertainment via AP

Don’t be afraid to venture into uncharted territory

When Diana left the island she grew up on, she made a choice to follow her instinct and embark on a mission she felt would save the world. To do that, however, she had to leave the only home she’d ever known and travel to a new land knowing that she could never return to the island. Our leaps of faith may not exactly involve saving the entire planet, but they can be just as terrifying. That’s no reason to hold back from diving into something new, though.

“There’s no sense of fulfillment in trying to stay safe in a stagnant life,” Lin says. “Do not be so concerned about making the ‘right move’ in life every step of the way.” Lin recommends meditating for 10 minutes each morning to help develop your intuition and clarity. “It strengthens your inner connection to the source of your ‘Wonder’ power,” she says.

Marco-Scanlon says figuring out what your values are will help to clarify whether a risk is right for you. “I think one of the biggest things [you should do] is to take a look at your value system and figure out what’s important to you,” she says. That can help you determine whether you’re willing to pick up and move to a new city or are OK with making a specific sacrifice to meet a goal.

Know your strengths — and when to let others shine

Obviously the focus of the movie is Diana (it is called Wonder Woman, after all), but there are supporting characters that help her along the way, whether it’s providing directions or giving her tips to blend in. In our own lives, when trying to get a task done, we may have to rely on others to help us out, or provide support so someone else can save the day, depending on each person’s unique skills.

“I find that most people take their unique strengths for granted,” Mistal says. “They think that because it comes so easily for them, it must come easily for everyone. Not true.” Mistal gives clients an exercise to complete where they describe in detail what they do well and share examples. “Detailing your strengths with this kind of soul search activity helps you position yourself well on any ‘mission’ and put yourself in the right roles that match your strengths,” she says.

In our own lives, we may have to rely on others to help us out, or provide support so someone else can save the day.

On the flip side, to best utilize someone else’s skills you have to know where their talents lie. “In other words, you've got to get to know your team,” Mistal says. “To do this, it helps to observe them in action. People tend to gravitate toward roles where they succeed. You might even give your team a fun project to work on where they have to work together so you can see where people shine.” You can also ask team members to weigh in on what each person’s best skills, abilities and talents are, or ask each individual directly what they feel their top strengths are and how they’d like to use them to accomplish a group task, she says.

Ask a lot of questions and speak up

When Diana travels to Europe for the first time she is a fish out of water, confronted with a ton of things that confuse her — and she never stops herself from speaking out about things that she finds odd. Some are played for laughs, like when she asks if a corset is what passes for armor in this town. But often, her questions are calling attention to things that she feels are wrong, like why no one is helping struggling villagers during wartime.

Any of us can take a cue from the film in our own daily interactions in the office. “It's crucial to speak up at work because otherwise your core genius (your unique set of skills, experiences, perspective, values [and] knowledge) won't be taken into account,” says Maggie Mistal, career and executive coach. “Speaking up also gives others the courage to voice their opinions, ideas, perspective [and] values.”

Mistal says to speak up effectively without being talked over you need to be assertive, not passive or aggressive. “You need to get your point across in a way that respects your audience,” she says. “In other words, before speaking up, take into account the perspective of your audience: How do they need to hear your message? What would be of service to them? It's simple but powerful.”

Nervous about speaking up in an intimidating situation? Mistal recommends warming yourself up by calling a friend or a family member and having a chat. “It gets me in the flow of conversation and that way it's not as hard to speak up in the meeting,” she says. “I also focus on ‘being of service’ rather than ‘performing’ in the meeting. When what I'm about to say is of service to the group, I'm much more apt to have the courage to say it because I'm not just saying it to ‘look good.’ My points have an important meaning and purpose and therefore have to get out through my voice.”

“The people who succeed in changing circumstances are the ones who aren't thrown by a snafu but rather see it as a challenge to their creativity."

Learn to roll with the punches

During her journey to defeat the film’s chief “bad guy,” Ares, Diana and her motley crew of supporting characters encounter quite a few snafus along the way. They never stop improvising, though, whether they’re stealing clothing to sneak into a gala or picking up scrap metal to create a jumping off point for Diana during battle. Our problems may not be as high stakes, but in our work lives there are bound to be times where we’ll have to learn to improvise.

“In career and in life, change is a constant so even the best laid-plans can hit a few roadblocks,” Mistal says. “The people who succeed in changing circumstances are the ones who aren't thrown by a snafu but rather see it as a challenge to their creativity. They see opportunity in the crisis and therefore are able to work with what they have and meet the goal even when circumstances have changed.” She recommends taking an improv class to get used to improvising — it will surely help you think on your feet going forward.

Or, try to reframe the way you think about mistakes or changing plans. “One of the biggest things is to always look at bumps in the road as ways of learning,” Marco-Scanlon says. “It’s not failure, you’re going to renegotiate or re-navigate how you’re going to go forward. You should ask, ‘What did I do wrong? How can I approach this differently?’ A mentor may have ideas to help you brainstorm or help listen.”

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