Heroic Leadership: Too Much of a Good Thing?

Can there be too much of a good thing? The answer is a wholehearted “Yes!” Very rarely does one leave an all-you-can eat buffet and think “that was a great idea.”

In the context of organizations what does “too much of a good thing” mean?

What we often see in organizations that are following all the talent management best practices is an over-reliance on the select handful of identified high potential talent. These poor, high performing, high-potential individuals get tapped on the shoulder for every development program, stretch assignment and meaty challenge the thoughtful organization can send their way.

And what can they do but say yes?

They are ambitious, they don’t want to seem ungrateful, they truly appreciate having their potential identified and seen however so often there’s no sense of a safety net.

What happens if they say no? Will the opportunity pass along to someone else? Will they be viewed differently behind the closed doors of talent calibration sessions.

So of course, they say yes!

How Heroic Leadership Shows Up in Organizations

They are the hero leader who can do anything, lead any team, get tasked with any meaty assignment. And it’s the metaphorical equivalent of an all-you-can eat buffet for a small number of people. Seems like a good idea at the time but you end up feeling queasy and overextended.

For more clarity here’s what often occurs:

  • Limited list of candidates regularly getting tapped on the shoulder for stretch assignments.
  • Revolving door of leaders in “keystone roles” as those capable people get parachuted into the next high-profile role.
  • Ratcheting up of expectations around what a leader is expected to do both in terms of results and relationships with a shorter runway to make that impact.
  • Teams in a state of heightened uncertainty as they are waiting for the next leader to swoop in with their version of the strategy and changes to the team.

Tips for Leaders

Perhaps you are feeling a strong affinity to one of the bullets listed above? Maybe you are a heroic leader who is starting to tire of being continually tapped on the shoulder, and are feeling stuffed by the glut of opportunity? Here are two things to consider as a hero leader:

  1. Be Your Own Career Advocate. Are you thinking about your job or your career? A strong leader has a healthy degree of self-interest and will consider the critical development they need to move to the next level and amplify it. Leaders who are skilled advocates (and authentic) are crystal clear on their values, strengths and brand and what for them is an easy “yes” career-wise. As a result, they feel a greater degree of alignment, motivation and commitment when the organization needs them to move. It’s easier to say yes when there is a personal as well as organizational win.
  2. Do Less. It’s the poorly guarded secret of the coaching community that we are all a touch lazy (this is clearly a joke, not actually true) but a good coach will refuse to take on the work of the client. How can you be more coach-like in your work? What work are you taking on of the team that could be delegated and become a growth opportunity? If you are likely to be moved because that’s the reality of the organization, how can you ensure that the team is stronger than when you arrived to set the next leader up for success?

At an organizational level, the over-reliance on that select handful of heroic leaders creates significant talent risk. The skills, abilities and strengths are housed with just a few strong performers and that does require systems and flexible frameworks to ensure more strength is spread through the collective rather than the select few.

At The Roundtable, we have proven approaches that when applied consistently over time can raise the collective bench strength of the organization. Talk to us about how our programs can ensure long term success.

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