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Are You a Post-Heroic Leader? Examining the 10 Myths

May 13, 2018


Many years ago while working on my Masters degree in leadership studies, one of my favourite profs urged me to read a great article by David Stauffer 10 Myths of Post Heroic Leadership and Why They’re Wrong”. This article is a keeper, and I’m pulling it out of the archives to see what’s changed (if anything) since Stauffer wrote it over 20 years ago.

Our perception of leadership and who should hold top positions has changed in the past two decades, albeit slowly—males still dominate boards of directors and CEO roles. Indeed, WHERE leadership resides in organizations and in communities is still being debated. My Masters thesis was on shared leadership, a subject that in the late nineties and early 2000s started to develop some legs. The practice of leadership being distributed throughout organizations still has a ways to go.

We’re still stuck on the Superman as the heroic leader image. Maybe it’s time he moves to the side.

So let’s get going. Here are the 10 myths of Post-Heroic Leadership–and why they’re wrong.

YOU decide which ones you agree with or disagree, or if any of them are not relevant to today’s volatile business environment.

1. It’s important to have everyone feel good and to avoid conflict
. While this may be nice, the main goal of contemporary leadership and teamwork is to have openness. This means that vulnerability and conflict are the new conditions under which we must live.

2. Being a post-heroic leader means being soft
. In reality, a post-heroic leader means being tougher in some ways than heroic, old school, managers because he must confront performance problems and conflict, even in delicate situations. The post-heroic leader must be a straight talker and align his words with his actions. Of particular note is that this leader won’t get caught in letting staff pass their issues and problems up the pipe. They must own them and deal with them.

3. Competition is discouraged among people
. What’s key here is that while teams will have a healthy sense of competitiveness, they don’t let it degenerate into personal attacks or allow it to undermine one another.

4. The Post-Heroic Leader isn’t decisive. 
In reality, she encourages the team to solve its problems, acting in a way like a facilitator. However, she won’t hesitate to make a decision when required. The key is to get the team to play an active role in critical decision-making.

5. The Post-Heroic Leader who makes the decision is actually heroic
. Not so, because the leader may, from time to time, have to make decisions dealing with urgent or even trivial issues that would waste the team’s time.

6. All decisions must be done by consensus
. The effective leader uses four or more types of decision-making: autonomous, delegating, consultative, and joint (consensus). The post-heroic leader uses consensus for strategic decisions because of the need for inclusiveness. Therefore, it’s vital to understand that shared responsibility within the team does not let the leader off the hook for being accountable for the team’s performance. For the leader to say that he went along with the team is not acceptable.

7. Getting team commitment to a decision is more important than the content of the decision itself
. How the team gets there is important, but so is the final product itself. The post-heroic leader pays close attention to this and ensures that a balance is struck.

8. The leader is responsible for vision
. Including everyone in creating a vision produces a much richer and compelling one, compared to one that is produced by one individual.

9. Being a Post-Heroic Leader means being slow and awkward
. The difference between the post-heroic leader and the heroic leader is that the latter believes in carefully planned out and conducted meetings. This includes doing the necessary lobbying beforehand, thinking through the politics of the work environment, and anticipating people’s reactions and how to respond to them.

The post-heroic leader, in contrast, believes in openness, seeing the heroic leader’s style as being a waste of time and ineffective. She aims for collaborative decision-making where people buy-in and commit. Games aren’t played behind the scenes.

10. Post Heroic Leadership is a long-term approach with respect to seeing the benefits. 
On the contrary, by addressing core issues the post-heroic leader contributes to almost instant productivity improvements as a result of people getting their issues heard and dealt with. Heroic leadership can also produce short-term gains, such as with layoffs, reengineering or reorganizations. However, where post-heroic leadership really shines is in the long-term because of the investment in time the leader puts up front. The long-term payoffs are big.

Do you know any Post-Heroic Leaders?

Are you one?

Take a moment to share your stories.

In the end, it is important to remember that we cannot become what we need to be, by remaining what we are.
― Max DePree (Leadership Is an Art)


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