Is this crisis the time for heroes in organisations?
Posted on April 18, 2013
David: I wonder if the “hero” myth is appropriate in the current economic situation. In fact, we might even ask if the “hero” approach to leadership has gotten us into the crisis we are in. By focusing on the individual hero have we ignored the ability to tap into a deeper intelligence of the group? Or do we have distorted views of what a “hero” really is in organizations and that’s leading down a false path?
Luis: These are fascinating questions. Very relevant. I certainly think that focusing on heroes prevents exploring the deeper intelligence and resources of the group or organisation and this undoubedly leads down a false path.
I find there is a deep believe in “heroes” in many organisations. At best people will not ask the questions that matter to realise their potential for learning and developing as a group, at worst it will block organisational change
Management in this last case has a mental model that makes them look for heroes or even superheroes to save the day. They give out “hero” labels, most times informally but sometimes formally. The “hero” then carries the weight and somehow everyone around accepts their leadership just because they are “the hero”. For a while everything is well and everybody seems comfortable in this setting, the hero will lead and the rest follow. The trouble is that that doesn’t quite really work. Very often heroes end up as scapegoats, those who proclaimed the hero now blame them for everything that is wrong. How common is this story? As a model, it efficiently ensures that everything remains just as it is. Management is home and dry ready to start all over again and blame someone else. A ticket to chronic failure.
You can tell that I totally disagree with this approach. Essentially, I do so because I think that in today’s complex environment no one can make such difference, nor can they be expected to. The answer is the group. The “hero” mental model acts like a blindfold that prevents focusing on the organisation.
Focusing on the organisation is important because that’s where the real power is. It might sound silly to say that what can “save” an organisation is the organisation itself but it is an important strategic statement that gives sharp focus to corporate policies and strategies.
The challenge of this collective approach is that it places great demands on leadership at all levels of the organisation. It requires a more active type of management and responsible shared leadership.This might prove to be too big a challenge sometimes.
David: I guess one of the problems with shared leadership is that people do not really know how to share leadership. When people think of leadership, they think of a leader. Most people do not have a way to think about leadership without thinking of the individual leaders. If you understand leadership as an act carried out by an individual then it’s difficult to imagine shared leadership. What could we mean when we say shared leadership? Does that mean one person has leadership for a certain period of time, and then they pass a leadership to a different person? Or does shared leadership mean that two or more people are leading at the same time? Is it possible for two people or more to lead at the same time? What if the two or three or four people involved lead in different directions? What would that look like?
Therefore, the central question for me would be to define what is meant by shared leadership. If we could separate leadership from our mental picture of a leader, maybe we could find some alternatives to the hero myth?
In the hero myth one person has the courage to step outside of social norms and look for a solution to a problem that is new and fresh, previously unknown. This new and fresh solution is brought back to the social group from outside that social group. I wonder if the “heroes” myth might have similar characteristics. Would this be a group of heroes that are willing to step outside of social norms to search for a solution that is new and fresh? I wonder what the pattern of a heroes myth would be as compared to a hero myth.
What do you think? Please send your comment.