When you hear the phrase hero leader, what comes to your mind? In the last few years, I got more and more interested in what I refer to as “leadership syndromes.” In this article, I would like to highlight one such syndrome, “Hero Leader.”
In general, hero is a word we all associate with accolades of praise upon an individual who has done a selfless or exemplary act. A word defined by the oxford dictionary as: “A person noted for feats of courage or nobility of purpose, especially one who has risked or sacrificed his or her life.” Up to this point it is all good, yea!!! The problem will start when a leader over extend themselves in order to receive this form of praise and acknowledgment at the expense of their overall health and wellbeing (mentally, emotionally, spiritually and physically).
So you might be asking, what does this have to do with leadership? Some leaders are stifling innovation and creativity in their teams by always wanting to act as the ‘rescuer.’ Leaders who suffer from this syndrome have an unconscious need to be needed; appreciated, or valued that disguises itself as a good thing but threatens to destroy the leader’s effectiveness.
They struggle with understanding that rescuing is not the same thing as leading. Sound leadership actually prevents the need to rescue. Hero leaders are not really either hero or leader. Heroic leadership is self-defeating because, the more heroic it is, and the more it widens the gap between dependency and empowerment.
Leaders who suffer from the syndrome:
- Have a desire to make everyone happy as rescuing others from their plight makes them feel good about themselves.
- Are usually overworked, tired, and stretched
- Always get great satisfaction out of being the only one who can solve a particular challenge.
Effects of the hero leader syndrome on self and others
Hero leader results in a number of fatal self-sabotaging consequences, which if left unattended, will lead you to failure. This will not be a matter of ‘if’, but ‘when’.
- As expectations and demands increase, fatigue builds. In your weariness and frustration, you might begin to resent those you help. As they become a ‘burden’ you cannot bear, joy vanishes from your hearts, and it is often replaced by anger. Though outwardly you may still appear to be effective, inside you will be dry and withering. Emotional burnout results from spending your inner reserves without replenishing yourself.
- Gradually you discard the needs that every normal human being has. You repress your need for adequate rest, play, renewal, and personal growth. Taking time to enjoy the scenery is a luxury rarely indulged. You deceive yourself into thinking that you do not need nurturing. In denying your humanness, you live behind the mask of self-sufficiency.
- You hide our true selves, fearing that your weaknesses and struggles will be discovered. Fredrick Otterman (2015), author of a leadership book, Help Me I am Sinking, highlights, “we try to disguise ourselves as superman, but beneath the surface, we are really only timid. Is it any wonder that we will not pull open the buttons on our shirt to let people see who we really are.”
- Frustration takes residence. For no matter how hard you try, you will always disappoint some people. You simply cannot meet everyone’s expectations-especially when there is conflict. Nor can you be the perfect person you strive to be. Despite your best efforts, a sense of hypocrisy and guilt intrudes. Your sense of unmet needs only adds to our frustration.
The question for you is, do you have tendency of wanting to be a hero leader? If so, to what extent is this working for and against your effectiveness? The good news is that it is possible to address this syndrome. In our next blog, I will highlight some suggestions for addressing the hero leader syndrome.
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Article written by Vongai Nyahunzvi, Executive Director of VCN Consultancy Services l leadership development l Executive Coaching l Talent Development l Team Development l Author