Hero vs. Host: Leadership Paradox 1

Margaret Wheatley (2011) writes “For too long, too many of us have been entranced by heroes. Perhaps it’s our desire to be saved, to not have to do the hard work, to rely on someone else to figure things out…And we keep believing it. Somewhere there’s someone who will make it all better. Somewhere, there’s someone who’s visionary, inspiring, brilliant, trustworthy, and we’ll all happily follow him or her. Somewhere…”
Historically leaders have been showcased as heroes, while the teams that they lead are often portrayed as being in awe and waiting with bated breath for their leadership. These depictions have led us to accept the leader as a sagacious and omnipotent (wo)man of mythic proportions. Leaders in turn have been conditioned to believe that they know best and that they know it all. They will take a bullet for the team and solve every problem that is posed. Even when the leader soundly believes in the whys of his leadership, he still thinks that only he knows what to do and expects team members to do as told.
Leaders are seduced by the vision of themselves as heroes. Who does now want to save the day? Who does not want to receive the adulation of team members and congratulations from the persons to whom they report?
Team members in turn, revel in the image of the caped leader who can make it all happen,  day after day. Unknowingly, the team leader and team members set up a co-dependent relationship, in which team members look to the leader for answers. While this appears harmless, it often leads to team members shirking responsibility and having little accountability, especially when things go wrong.
I must admit that it is thrilling to receive the kudos that come with hero worship, and even more thrilling to think of myself as the smartest person in the room; the one with all the answers. But, how are we contributing to the development off staff?
When I developed my definition of leadership I considered two questions. “How does the leader tap into the intelligence of our team members by solving all problems? How do staff take the risks associated with expressing creativity, if we tell them what to do?
For leaders who have an “S” on their chest. the offer is to evoke our alter ego as a Host leader. Think of when you host a party and invite people over, what do you do? You think of the guests and organise the food according to the allergies and preferences. You introduce guests who have similar interests then get out of the way, even as you keep an eye out for the guests who may have one drink too many.  As hosts, we create the environments that ensure that guests have what they need to operate and function. When you host a great party, you can feel it, it’s almost tangible and people leave with pep in their step.  Can you imagine how our team members will respond if as leaders we co-create (wth them)  these type of environments?
It is possible that as leaders we may not know if  or when we are acting as a hero. To help us be aware,  Wheatley advises, “You’re acting as a hero when you believe that if you just work harder, you’ll fix things; that if you just get smarter or learn a new technique, you’ll be able to solve problems for others. You’re acting as a hero if you take on more and more projects and causes and have less time for relationships. You’re playing the hero if you believe that you can save the situation, the person, the world.”

In what aspects of your life do you play hero?
What would it be like if you became a host?

Maxine Attong coaches leaders who want to effectively Lead teams to win. She is the author of Lead Your Team to Win and Change or Die. Maxine is also an OD Consultant , Speaker and Certified Accountant.


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