The Leader as Hero

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Leader as heroEveryone wants to be a hero, even if in a small way - to be admired, respected, accepted. If you admire sporting heroes, you want to be like them yourself. The true leader is essentially a hero - someone who does something outstanding. The appointed manager cannot compel hero worship.

We admire heroic leaders too much sometimes, thus depending on them and disempowering ourselves. It is well known that we idealize leaders but we are not so aware of how this might be counter-productive or disengaging. 

The Leader as Hero

  • To be a hero, you must demonstrate some form of excellence.
  • The drive to be a hero = the drive to differentiate yourself, to be who you can be.
  • Those who genuinely do not have this drive are content with their own status quo.
  • Unlike their sporting heroes, they don't push themselves to improve in any way.
  • Otherwise they have low self esteem and feel they cannot do any better.
  • To be a hero, you do not need to stand out by doing something extraordinary.
  • All managers looked up to in any way are still heroes to those to look up to them.
  • Being such a hero will enable you to lead those who admire you.
  • Being too much of a hero can be counterproductive if it disempowers others.
  • Small, occasional acts of heroism help others to feel they can emulate you.
  • Referring to heroes may sound over the top, but can you not think of a few people you admire even if you would not call them your heroes?
  • Younger people are more prone to full blown hero worship than older people.
  • That's because they're still looking for role models on which to base their own identity.
  • If you overly admire heroes at a more mature age, you might be avoiding some aspect of reality you find unpleasant.
  • Even if you don't go so far as to put photos of your manager in a scrapbook, you may be deferring too blindly to his or her authority, too reliant on your manager to look after you and, hence, too let down when your expectations are disappointed.
  • For your own development, it might be of some benefit to explore for yourself why you defer to readily or rely so completely on your manager for leadership.

Post-Heroic Leadership

  • Current definitions of leadership have a post-heroic connotation.
  • The claim is that it is possible to be a leader without being a hero.
  • Heroic leaders can, it is felt, take on too much power and make promises they can't meet.
  • They can disempower employees and thus destroy employee engagement.
  • This is a complex problem because we also tend to be inspired by role models to challenge ourselves to do better.
  • So, we partly depend on heroes while, at the same time, are inspired by them.
  • The question is whether the downside is worth the upside.
  • It can be argued that the post-heroic leader is more engaging.
  • The aim of post-heroic leaders is to draw solutions out of team members rather than to sell their own solutions.
  • However, it is arguable that being a facilitator means being a good manager, not a leader.

The truth is that anyone can lead and it can range from promoting unheroic minor changes to work practices to major social changes at great risk to the leader, as in the case of Martin Luther King. Thus leadership is always at least somewhat heroic in that the person promoting a change stands out from others even if only in a small way. We follow leaders who champion minor changes because their ideas or passion inspire us even if we would not put them in the same league as Martin Luther King.

Where do you want to go from here?

Want to read more on the relationship between vision and leadership? If leadership isn't just an influence process, then it's a role in a hierarchy, but this is biologically primitive. See Primitive Leadership for more on this topic. For more discussion of how leadership can work as influence, see Thought LeadershipBottom-up Leadership and Organic Leadership.

For more unconventional thinking on leadership see our sister site LEAD2XL