That is a very good question. Here is the short answer: It depends on how you define hero. With the common definition of a hero as a person with great strength or ability, you can make a list of leadership heroes, with very little problem. And yet most people, when looking at that list, would feel inadequate or feel that those examples don’t apply to the leadership work that they do. So, I’ll ask again, are leaders heroes?
Looking at the Definition
When looking at different dictionary definitions of the word, we see three ideas worth considering in the concept of leadership. They are:
- the idea of great strength or ability
- the idea of courage
- the idea of super-human or semi-divine origin
These ideas seem daunting if not impossible to most people.
My first thought after reading those ideas is that “maybe I’m not cut out to be a leader.” And that concern and the lack of confidence that thought creates is just one of the possible dangers of the leader/hero connection.
- “Oh, the Pressure.” If as a leader one thinks they must be out front, full of courage and have all the answers, that can be a very tough spot. The pressure can quickly mount, even if it is largely or completely self-imposed.
- Ego Inflation. If one feels they have been appointed and expected be the heroic leader, like in mythology or the movies, the ego can be inflated to unhealthy levels. Hubris comes to mind, doesn’t it?
- Passivity Created. The dangers go beyond the leader themselves. Think about the team. If they are looking for or expecting the knight on the metaphorical white charger to lead them forward and make all the decisions, they will hold back, defer and wait for the leader to make the decisions. Rarely is passivity rewarded in a complex world of rapid change.
- Accountability Lost. The ultimate loss the hero creates is a lack of accountability and ownership from the team. While they wait, the team removes any sense of their ownership of the situation, decisions and outcomes. Learning is lost and helplessness is created when things go poorly. This hardly seems heroic.
How the Answer Could Be “Yes”
Now that I have told you the dangers and concerns with thinking that leaders are heroes, there is a way to frame the “are leaders heroes” question in a way where the answer is yes.
When the leader sees himself in service of the outcome and those they lead, heroic things can happen. And while it may well not have happened without the leader, they didn’t do it to be the focus of for purely selfish motives.
So, absolutely there are leaders, including everyday leaders like us, that are heroes. But the heroism is understood and recognized when the destination is reached, because the team knows that without the leader they wouldn’t have succeeded.
Leaders can be heroes, when they keep their focus on the outcome and others. Doing this can lead to personal rewards and recognition, but as a result of the team’s success, rather than their personal prowess.
If you would like to take your understanding and skills as a leader to a new level of mastery, join me in the From Manager to Remarkable Leader learning experience. or contact us about bringing this learning experience into your organization.