Heroic leadership in a complex world

It’s tough to be a heroic leader, but you put anyone in a position of responsibility (management, for example), and they will start to feel responsible. They will experience the need to know the answers, understand what’s going on, and to be able to solve all the problems that come up within their world. Rationally they will know that they cannot know everything, all the time, but most people feel that responsibility in a management situation.

Added to that is the complexity that their boss will be fine with them not knowing everything until something goes wrong (“What do you mean you didn’t know about that?!”), and their staff may well expect them to know what’s going on and to be able to solve all the problems too (“They should sort it out; they’re paid the big bucks, it’s their job – it’s certainly not mine.).

The media industry also emphasises the heroism of leadership, with countless movies dedicated to showing us that leadership is about decisive action by a heroic leader who saves the day.

However these days the world is just too complex to be able to expect anyone to know all the answers, all the time. We need to expect that sometimes problems are just too complex for one person; that we need to work together to deal with complexity.

The cartoon below illustrates very well the challenges of heroic leadership, and a common outcome of what happens when we try and deal with it on our own.

From Zach Weiner’s “Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal”.

Here’s the link to the original: http://www.smbc-comics.com/index.php?db=comics&id=2012#comic

H/t Ben Ramilingam for pointing this out to me!

12:58 pm | by Pete_Hamill

One Response to “Heroic leadership in a complex world”

  1. Great post Pete! I think it is a shame that ‘heroic leadershio’ is so much associated with the singular leader going out and boldly making everything right. I have worked quite a bit with Joseph Campbell’s work in which he describes the Hero’s Journey as a kind of underlying frame of how humanity shares mythology of leaders. It can be quite powerful when applied to personal development and transformation – not for the purpose of creating ‘singular hero’s’ more for the purpose of inspiring people to be the master of their own destiny and to connect the journey they are on in a more integrative way to the journey of others and to a purpose bigger than themselves.

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