Leadership: From Superheroes to Everyday Men (and Women) Heroes

Do we seri­ously need more of these?

  • Celebrity syn­drome
  • High­est salary and stock options
  • Glam­ourous Cos­tume & Iconic Branding
  • Short-Term Prof­its & spec­tac­u­lar “Coups”
  • From Super­heroes to every­day Heroes. Watch Her­minia Ibarra, Pro­fes­sor of Orga­ni­za­tional Behav­ior at Insead, debunk with “finesse”, detailed research and humor the CEO Super­hero myth.


Do We Cel­e­brate the wrong CEOs?

“We still flock to the same few big-time celebrity CEOs for our wis­dom on lead­er­ship and growth. What does that say about us as a busi­ness com­mu­nity? Maybe we’re over-valuing things that well-known CEOs do well (get­ting on mag­a­zine cov­ers, talk­ing about their next big moves, explain­ing short-term results) and over-looking what less head­line grab­bing but better-performing CEOs do well which is focus on build­ing value long-term. Maybe it’s time to redi­rect our atten­tion and start cel­e­brat­ing and learn­ing from a dif­fer­ent crop of CEOs.”

Read more at the Har­vard Busi­ness Review Blog: The quiet CEOs, who get the work done, and well.

  • Who are these quiet CEOs? They are less charis­matic, almost invis­i­ble. What if the time has come to honor and cel­e­brate another kind of lead­er­ship? What if it all started with lead­ing by exam­ple, at home, at school, in politics?

Recently, I read in the Har­vard Busi­ness Review an arti­cle about the Five Lead­er­ship Lessons from the BP Oil Spill, writ­ten by Gill Corkindale.

“Les­son 4: Lead­ers are there to serve their com­pa­nies, peo­ple and com­mu­ni­ties. As with 9/11, ordi­nary peo­ple have shown remark­able lead­er­ship capa­bil­i­ties, vol­un­teer­ing to clean up the oil and help the stricken wildlife, with­out thought or care for their own health and safety. Unlike the elected lead­ers, they see the big­ger pic­ture and recog­nise that the envi­ron­ment and the liveli­hoods of local peo­ple are more impor­tant than cor­po­rate prof­itabil­ity or polit­i­cal manoeuvrings.”

It’s a good reminder that time has come for a more hum­ble, ordi­nary lead­er­ship and for lead­ers and CEOs to con­nect with their soul and their heart, at the ser­vice of their com­pa­nies, peo­ple and com­mu­ni­ties, and be at the same time the best-performers.

  • Is it an utopia? How can we start this process of trans­for­ma­tion? When are we going to stop wait­ing  for top lead­ers to “save” us? Could women play a major role in that trans­for­ma­tion? Are the next women CEOs the anti-hero model that we so urgently need? Is it related to gen­der or rather to a good bal­ance of fem­i­nine and mas­cu­line qual­i­ties? A “com­mand and inspire” style of lead­er­ship instead a com­mand and con­trol? A more open lead­er­ship, like Char­lene Li would call it?

What are we wait­ing for? What exam­ples of ordi­nary heroes would you like to share? Eager to hear from you!

Related posts:

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6 Responses to Leadership: From Superheroes to Everyday Men (and Women) Heroes

  1. Tim Hurson says:

    Excel­lent piece, Mar­ion. To offer what I think is a rel­e­vant build: whether led by women or men, we will not see the reemer­gence of excel­lent cor­po­ra­tions until we rethink what busi­nesses are really for. We have too long been seduced by the dis­tort­ing cult of share­holder value. The first pri­or­ity of busi­ness must be to meet the needs of cus­tomers. Com­pa­nies that do that well will reward their own­ers and employ­ees. Com­pa­nies that value pro­duc­ing prof­its above pro­duc­ing value will inevitably attract lead­ers who lead in the wrong direction.

    • Thank you, Tim, I really appre­ci­ate this com­ment from you.
      Are you famil­iar with the con­cept of Ser­vant Lead­er­ship? Would it be sim­i­lar to being at the ser­vice of the client, serv­ing the cus­tomers in pri­or­ity? I guess there is more than that and such an orga­ni­za­tional and cul­tural shift could only occur with a com­plex stream of var­i­ous influ­ences, from the indi­vid­ual to the envi­ron­ment, across val­ues, behav­iours set of laws and reg­u­la­tions, across diverse national and orga­ni­za­tional cul­tures.
      What do you think of bring­ing this shift from a new and grow­ing seg­ment of the work­force the Mil­len­ni­als, and espe­cially women, who are look­ing even more for cor­po­rate integrity, col­lab­o­ra­tion and rela­tion­ship build­ing?
      Could they fos­ter an emerg­ing stream of inno­va­tion in busi­ness ethics, while achiev­ing excel­lent results?
      If yes, then it should be every­body’ s pri­or­ity to empower girls and women!
      Thanks again for stim­u­lat­ing conversations.

  2. Mar­ion — Excel­lent post, as always. You are push­ing our think­ing in the right direc­tion — in my not so hum­ble opin­ion. Your post brings to mind that we — in west­ern cul­ture — are caught in the myth of the wished for father who will solve all our prob­lems FOR us. We are there­fore will­ing to invest in the idea that he is a super­hero and along with that role comes our will­ing­ness to wor­ship his fame with great for­tunes. When we real­ize it is up to us, that we must do the hard work of cre­at­ing our present, our future, and our children’s future, we will bring our lead­ers to a more earthly level. And with that we will value women lead­ers who will help us grow into the per­sons we can be and not take on the role of Knight in Shin­ing Armor. Thanks for mak­ing me think.

  3. Gwyn Teatro says:

    Hi Mar­ion, This post makes me think of two things.

    First, I love the notion of the quiet leader, some­one who stays under the radar and yet is able to achieve great results and build strong, func­tional teams. I’m reminded of the Jim Collins book, Good to Great wherein he describes the prin­ci­pal char­ac­ter­is­tics of a level 5 leader, as one who com­bines focused will with humil­ity. Like you, I believe that we need more of this and less of the super-hero, rock star kind of lead­er­ship that becomes more about the indi­vid­ual and less about any­thing else.

    Sec­ond, Anne’s com­ment makes me think about the dif­fer­ence between car­ing and care­tak­ing. There are lead­ers who take great pride in “tak­ing care of peo­ple”. While this can sound rather com­fort­ing, it is also often patron­iz­ing and dis­counts the pos­si­bil­ity that peo­ple would really rather take care of them­selves. Car­ing about peo­ple looks a lot dif­fer­ent and includes the acknowl­edge­ment that every per­son has the abil­ity and poten­tial to make a con­tri­bu­tion that goes beyond the leader’s expec­ta­tion. The leader’s job then becomes one of facil­i­ta­tion rather than control.

    I think that advanc­ing fem­i­nine lead­er­ship traits is a very pos­i­tive step toward achiev­ing a new cor­po­rate, per­haps even world, environment.

    Thank you for another thought-provoking post!

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