Leaders: To be the hero, or not to be (Part 2)

March 1, 2021

Heroes. They come in many different forms. There are those who fight for their beliefs, battle against injustice, and inspire change, like Rosa Parks. Then we have sporting heroes who overcome adversity and succeed against all odds. England cricketer Ben Stokes is an excellent example, leading his team to World Cup victory in 2019. There’s also heroes who achieve things we never thought possible, like Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon.

Let’s not forget everyday heroes: the doctors, nurses, and firefighters, on the front-line saving lives. Perhaps you’ll recognise the concept of a hero (somebody who is admired for their courage, achievement, or noble qualities) in work, too.

A hero could be the member of the team who seems to stand out from the rest, even more common, the hero is the leader. The person who makes important, courageous decisions, leads the way in the organisation’s success, and has the natural ability to stay calm in stressful situations.

Bosses, the heroes of the office

The ability to be a hero is something we almost expect from our team leaders and managers. They swoop in and save the day when a big deal looks to be going wrong. We confide in them with our work-related issues, knowing they can solve the problem. We say: “that’s not my responsibility, it’s my bosses” and pass anything on that’s above our paygrade.

The ‘hero mentality’ is something we almost look for in a boss.

And, as we strive for this, they do too. Team leaders will often embrace their hero status and might find themselves speaking more than they listen. They may think that they must be the one with all the answers. So, the hero mentality in managers is the status quo. To be the leader you come first, lead the way, and your people follow behind.

What’s it like being the hero?

A leader who has embraced the hero mentality isn’t necessarily an arrogant person, it’s quite the opposite, they’re trying to do the right thing.

These leaders want to help their employees, they strive to remove impediments, and solve conflicts.

So, sometimes, being a hero isn’t a problem, or at least it doesn’t seem like one. But, the reality is that it does have a negative impact on teams. For example, it promotes a lack of accountability in employees as they don’t feel responsible for their actions.

It is also detrimental for managers themselves. Expectations are high and often leaders are asked to step-in to problems that should be resolved by the team.

This stunts growth for employees, leaders, and the entire organisation.

It’s time to take a back seat

Instead of riding in like a knight into battle, perhaps it’s time to take a back seat. Encourage teams to become mature, self-driven, and self-organised.

Ok, but how? We’ve discussed the concept of hero mentality, well there’s an alternative concept: servant leadership. Let’s have a look of the differences:

  • Heroes feel the need to be in charge and therefore talk a lot; servants are more prone to listening, sitting at the back and offering an opinion when truly worthy,
  • Having a hero in charge makes employees feel controlled and restricted; a servant shares power and responsibilities which consequently helps with the team’s growth and accountability,
  • Heroes believe the burden is on them to be in charge; servants understand that the responsibility should be shared.

Simon Sinek is a big advocate of servant leadership, he even compares it to looking after a plant. The leader with a ‘hero’ style may choose to display a plant where it looks best, without considering the implications of the location, such as light. They believe the burden is on them alone to care for the plant.

Whereas servant leaders consider the plants strengths and weaknesses and display it in a suitable location. This way, the responsibility of care for the plant lies both with themselves, and the plant. How? Well, the plant has plenty of light, which it needs in order to utilise nutrients to survive, but it also needs somebody to water it. This leader has understood how best to serve the plant, through shared responsibility.

A hero: to be or not to be

Now, it needs to be said, sometimes managers do need to step in and be the hero. This raises the question for leaders: to be a hero, or not to be?

The best approach is to embrace a combined leadership style. Utilise servant leadership to create a safe environment for your team. They will learn to confide in you and then you can give them the confidence problem solve themselves. Then, be prepared to step in and be the hero when it’s needed. After all, sometimes there is impediments that the team just can’t remove themselves. This should, however, be few and far between.

To get started, ask yourself: Do I understand what my team need? Am I enabling them to be their best self? What are they missing? How can I help them?

Bosses, the servants of the office

If you recognised the ‘hero mentality’ in yourself then consider a change of approach. By embracing the servant leadership style you’ll see your team change into one that is accountable, takes responsibility, and is driven to achieving results – because they feel like they own them.

There will be more time and space for development and personal growth, too. Your team will have opportunities to try new things and maybe even specialise in a niche topic. And you’ll have the time and space to nurture your team and develop as a team leader.

Ultimately, the team will be happy, engaged, and enjoy coming to work, making your life as a leader a lot easier!

About the Author

Hannah Price is a Service Management Consultant and Agile Coach at TOPdesk UK. Hannah has over six years of experience in guiding organisations to achieve service excellence by connecting the people and technology, empowering teams to work better together.

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