Why Hero Leaders Promote Failure For You, The Business And Themselves

June 4, 2019 Chris Pearse

444 views Nov 15, 2018, 12:19pm

Chris Pearse Contributor I write about the realities and challenges of leadership.


Hero: person of superhuman strength or physical courage –  demi-god, illustrious individual.

What’s not to admire, revere and respect about a Hero Leader – the CEO that can save the day, walk on water and bring home the bacon? Someone that everyone looks up to in the absolute certainty that, whatever the adversity, they will know what to do and how to do it.

Well, the 6th century BC Chinese philosopher, Lao-Tzu begged to differ in Chapter 17 of his magnum opus, the Tao Te Ching. He was unequivocal that:

A leader is best when people barely know that he exists,
not so good when people obey and acclaim him,
worst when they despise him.
Fail to honour people, They fail to honour you.
But of a good leader, who talks little, when his work is done, his aims fulfilled,
they will all say, “We did this ourselves.”

This must be the antithesis of the Hero Leader – anonymous and self-effacing – not out of any misplaced humility that is simply the flip side of arrogance, but a genuine realisation that acclaim and recognition are no more than an ego-based distraction.

Here is why Hero Leaders cause more trouble than they are worth:

Hero Leaders Undermine Independence

Knowing that your decision-making will always be scrutinised before being unleashed on the organisation might provide a comfort blanket for the diffident and the anxious, but protection from the consequences of one’s thinking impedes development and stunts growth. The need for personal growth is innate to us all and to retard it is to do irreparable harm.

Hero Leaders Delegate Activity, Not Responsibility

Hero Leaders often feel a misguided sense of responsibility for everything that goes on around them. In delegating activity without responsibility, they reduce the workforce to drones whilst heaping more and more on themselves. So whilst the organisation grows, it cannot scale beyond the capacity of its leader. The stark reality is that no-one is responsible for the actions of another. The leader’s task is to ensure everyone takes responsibility for themselves.

Hero Leaders Power The Organisation, Alone

Refusal to devolve responsibility renders employees unable to engage fully with the organisation. Consequently the energy required to propel the organisation forwards can only come from the leader themselves. The Hero Leader not only has to steer the organisation, they also have to power it singlehandedly. Naturally, the leader’s energy does not scale with the organisation.

Hero Leaders Destroy Trust

When a leader fails to promote the development and growth of their people, the unspoken justification can often be a lack of trust. When trust is not given or invested, it is never reciprocated. Relationships that lack trust are rather like engines without oil – noisy, inefficient and prone to catastrophic failure.

A Hero Culture Is Not Sustainable

In any organisation, the leader’s behaviour is instrumental in shaping culture. When the dominant behaviour is that of retention of responsibility, the culture cannot cascade down, through the business, creating a dissonance between the leader’s behaviour and everyone else’s. Overtime the organisation will lose those with ambition, to be replaced by those that eschew it.

In contrast, Lao Tzu’s leader devolves responsibility, activity and trust throughout the organisation. His leader steers the organisation without powering it and scales it to suit the needs of the people it serves.

By focusing on the growth of people, the leader promotes the health and wellbeing of all stakeholders, themself included, and becomes an unsung hero, gently guiding the organisation, not through personal power, but through the people around them.

This is true heroism.

I help leaders accelerate their development and impact through a deepened awareness of our inner dynamics – the belief systems and emotions that shape our leadership. Discover more here…

Chris Pearse

Chris Pearse Contributor

I am an Executive Coach to leaders across diverse sectors including FTSE100s and SMEs. I am also an Interim CEO.