Updated: May 3, 2021
By: Daniel Murphy
Hero leaders are the kinds of leaders that build businesses that become headless chickens if the boss decides to take a vacation. The book From Good to Great by Jim Collins perfectly describes this kind of hero as a Level 4 Inspirational Leader.
They build the kind of business where systems are not put in place and most problems or challenges that arise are often treated as an opportunity for the leader to prove his “Best-Ness” one more time.
If you aim to build a service business or really any business with employees and don’t fix your possible “Hero Leader” tendencies, you will never fully flourish in happiness and will find it difficult to achieve freedom of time without sacrificing business success which is one of the key components of becoming a truly successful entrepreneur.
So how can you avoid it to become a superior leader?
I believe it’s best and sometimes easiest to understand with an example.
So bear with me while I describe what this looks like.
This business owner owns a business that is currently making 7 figures in revenue. His business used to earn more, but slowly its powerful growth has faded because the leader — well deserved after many years of hard work — wants to take a break more often and enjoy the fruits of his labor.
This leader is a powerful leader. He is a man amongst men and he always seems to have the answer to everything. He asks for employee input to show respect, but often times he does not feel he needs it, or is so sure that his idea is correct that he doesn’t pay much consideration to the deeper implications or possibilities of his employees’ ideas. This kind of leader sometimes believes he is the only one who can solve the hard problems, feels he is surrounded by uninspired employees, and finds it difficult to trust others with big decisions until they’ve proven themselves for many years and overcome many trials.
The Hero Leader takes self-confidence to the dangerous level of believing he is right almost always. He is sometimes more concerned with explaining why his idea is the best one rather than providing his employees with the patient and respectful environment to develop alternative ideas. Sometimes, this leader can even suppress ideas by bullying or mocking what he believes are bad ideas.
In limiting employee input this way, a leader can slowly suppress the reality of a business situation and replace it with his own. This is a form of autonomy suppression that reduces employee motivation and job satisfaction.
The reality of a business situation is often perceived best by frontline employees. So a business leader that does not proactively create a respectful and empowering environment to discover that true reality from his employees is one that will waste time on MANY ineffective solutions.
The Hero Leader creates a cult-like company culture around his patriarchal leadership philosophy. Much like a cult, the inspirational leader at its center is the one who lays down the law and slowly becomes the only “brains” of the operation.
While this philosophy can most certainly grow a business just like it can grow a cult, the problem lies in the limitations it sets on employee creative and productive output and the scale to which you can ultimately grow your business.
I have talked to some employees who work in this kind of business before, and asked them why they sometimes do things in a way that seems inefficient or frustrating to them. The answer often times is “because the boss said so…”
Or, “I’m not sure, but the boss told me I should.”
This patriarchal philosophy works for creating obedient worker drones, but it’s no way to build a massively scalable business. It diminishes creative and critical thinking because instead of encouraging an employee to simmer on a problem to find their own solution, they’re usually handed one on a silver platter instead.
Employees who are always handed the answer instead of challenged to find it themselves grow increasingly dependent on the patriarchal, hero leader. And since they aren’t given the chance to solve their own problems, they also miss out on an important opportunity to nurture self-confidence from solving their own problems. Instead, the self-confidence arises from the fact that they know the Boss is available whenever they need him to fix the problems that require a little more thinking.
A hero leader has a management style that follows McGregor’s Philosophy of Theory X instead of Theory Y Both of which he outlines in his book, The Human Side of Enterprise.
Theory X is authoritarian and is what I call a “Fixed Employee Mindset”. Theory X’ers believe that employees inherently lack motivation, don’t care about their work, need constant supervision, and have no ambition to where only short term rewards can motivate them.
On the other hand, Theory Y leaders are participatory and hold what I call a “Growth Employee Mindset”. Managers and leaders who lead this way believe employees are:
Happy to work towards a shared vision of business success,
Enjoy being responsible for their own work,
Can solve problems creatively,
And want to be better at what they do
As much as you possibly can, apply and teach Theory Y through all levels of your organization. You will find that your employees will vastly improve their productive output, develop strong collaborative and trust-based relationships, and ultimately be happier for it.
For more on these two theories and how you can improve your business, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to help you figure out if you are currently facing these challenges in your business.
Now on to the good stuff.
How do you overcome these? Let me give you a couple of powerful strategies for free.
Challenge 1 Tips:
Challenge 1 can be overcome with a couple of mindset shifts. First, this leader needs to go back to thinking about how he/she was when they first started their leadership journey. No one is perfect from the beginning, and there are most certainly a variety of difficult lessons that leader learned to achieve their level of success. But what are the two things that leader probably never stopped doing…?
Believing that they could achieve their goals with enough focused hard work,
And finding the right questions then finding the answers to those questions.
A leader who leads without humility is a leader who will always find it difficult to find or develop great people for his/her company.
Find a way to humbly ask your employees the right questions and show them what it looks like when you are achieving at the highest level, and there is nothing they won’t do for you and your company.
Challenge 2 Tips:
This is what the Harvard Business Review called “passing the monkey” in one of its best selling reprints in its history. The monkey was a metaphor for who has responsibility of the task at hand.
Hero leaders tend to be the rapid problem solvers for anyone who goes to them. This works almost like a drug for many employees who get so used to it that they virtually stop trying to solve problems themselves.
This can have a surprisingly quick fix if done consistently.
First, ask your employee: “What do you think you should do if I wasn’t around to resolve your problem?
If they say they don’t have the authority to make a decision to resolve it themselves, then they have an autonomy problem, and as soon as you can, you should change the system to grant them the autonomy that they need along with the proper Key Performance Indicators to ensure optimum use of that autonomy.
If they say they don’t know how to resolve it, then they have a knowledge problem. You should immediately take this moment as a coaching opportunity and either setup a later time to develop a plan to fill that knowledge gap, or give them the mental tools and resources to figure out the problem themselves. It will take some time to see the shift, but as a leader you will slowly build a team of autonomous problem solvers who only come to you for real issues, or ideas for further personal development.
Challenge 3 Tips:
This one is simple in theory, but can be difficult to overcome without some habitual mindset shifting.
For each leader, this mindset may manifest in different ways in the business, but a few general tips to overcome it without direct business coaching are:
Practice daily gratitude for your employees and for the opportunity to help them become better people every day. Not everyone is where you are in life, and the more people you help grow, the happier and more fulfilled you will ultimately become.
Develop the habit of asking your employees what they would like to achieve while working in the company, and help them create plans to achieve those dreams within your business. Even if those aspirations are not to be in your business long-term, Many extraordinary employees later become your absolute best customers or subcontractors. When you figure out how your best employees’ dreams can fit with yours, you will find that the majority of job motivation problems disappear.
Instead of proactively solving their problems, help your employees brainstorming questions and progressive solutions to find the best response. Sure, you might get some weak responses at first, but oftentimes, your employees will surprise you with the solutions they can develop on their own with your targeted questions.
People want to be great, but many just don’t know how to do it. So a great leader helps his employees find that path to greatness with humility. Involve them in your decision-making process while taking a Theory Y mindset, and there is nothing your team won’t achieve for you. Teach them the thoughts that run through your head as you are considering different challenges and answers, and you will be well on your way to becoming what the book From Good to Great describes as a Level 5 Leader. The pinnacle-level leader whose company can truly soar.
Let’s build together my friends, and I wish you the absolute greatest success in building your business.