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Leading in a Post-Heroic World: Do You Have What it Takes?

November 23, 2009
Updated December 5, 2016

heroDate Line: 1994, Forbes Magazine
THE NEW POST-HEROIC LEADERSHIP ”Ninety-five percent of American managers today say the right thing. Five percent actually do it.” That’s got to change.


Post-heroic leadership has gone by many names: shared leadership, participative leadership, distributed leadership and servant leadership. The point here is that people across, up and down organizations, and communities play an active role in leadership.Positional power and authority – namely those in management positions – no longer have the monopoly on leading. The key is that managers are appointed to their positions; leadership is earned.Since the late nineties, my mission has been to promote the benefits of embracing a shared, post-heroic mindset in organizations. My Master’s thesis was on shared leadership, entitled A Leap of Faith.

While some organizations understand the big benefits of engaging employees and actively involving them in demonstrating leadership, most unfortunately do not. And when one is in an economic downturn, the mind tends to shut out long-term, strategic thinking; the focus is on the here and now.

When an organization does embrace a shared leadership mindset, everyone accepts responsibility for the future of the organization. It’s not just a senior management responsibility. However, managers have to realize that they’re not abdicating power or responsibilities.

Post-heroic leaders are completely engaged with their followers. This type of leadership is more difficult because it’s more dynamic and requires courage by the manager. However, it’s also easier because once it’s internalized it becomes part of all managerial elements. In other words, it becomes embedded in the organization’s culture.

There are those who are cynical about Post-Heroic, or shared, leadership, believing it to be a weak and ineffective form of leading. David Stauffer wrote an article in defense of Post-Heroic leadership in the Harvard Business Review in 1998 on what he called the 10 Myths of Post-Heroic Leadership:

1. There should be little conflict at work since people want to get along well.

2. The Post-Heroic manager is a “soft” manager.

3. Collaboration is in, competition is out.

4. The post-heroic leader is a facilitator and does not make decisions.

5. A leader who makes independent decisions is acting heroically.

6. All decisions must be made through consensus.

7. Team commitment to a decision overrides its quality.

8. Only the organization’s top leader is allowed to have vision.

9. Managing as a post-heroic leader is slow and inefficient.

10. Post-heroic leadership does not produce short-term benefits.

The bottom line, over ten years ago, was that Post-Heroic leadership delivers the results that are needed in the economy. It requires, as Stauffer put it: “…decisiveness, sangfroid, and results-oriented thinking in small measure….a leader with a solid sense of self-worth and self-confidence.” And to do this – well – means that a manager needs to have the self-confidence and self-worth to embark on this process.

If you’re in a senior management position, ask yourself this question: “Am I creating owners or dependents in my organization?” If you want people to act like it’s their business then make it their business.

So ask yourself if you’re in a position of authority: “Do I have what it takes to embrace Post-Heroic Leadership?”

And if you’re in a staff role, ask yourself: “Do I have the courage to assert myself to insist that I be taken seriously as a leader?”

You never find yourself until you face the truth.
– Pearl Bailey


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Jim TaggartTake a moment to meet Jim.

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