No More Heroes? #1


The latest next big thing in management is something called ‘post heroic leadership’ (PHL). ‘Post’ is one of those trendy prefixes – much like meta and multi – that keeps popping up everywhere. Of course, it means after or subsequent to. This being the case, just what exactly is ‘heroic leadership’?

A guy called John Huey was one of the first to make the distinction in a 1994 Fortune article called The new post-heroic leadership. He described PHL as a style of ‘virtual leadership’ in which those in power delegate responsibility out to the staff. How? By creating a working environment in which staff have the resources to solve their own problems. Staff do not depend on a ‘hero’ to intervene and ‘save’ them. But these new leaders do take on themselves the responsibility of modeling those values that the organisation espouses.

Twinned with this is a strong distinction between ‘leaders’ and ‘managers’ that allows workers to be the first without the second. This is just acknowledging what we know to be true anyway – the line of leadership cuts across a manager/staff distinction regularly. While management is about keeping the organisation running, leadership involves ‘getting things started and facilitating change’.

This new paradigm of leadership is expressed in phrases like the following:

  • “Leadership is a verb, not a noun”
  • “Leadership is defined by what you do, not who you are”
  • “Leaders are those whom others follow”

And the reasons for this shift? Traditional hierarchies are breaking down, and power based on position alone looks ridiculous given the frequently equal educational levels of team members. As the quantity and scope of workplace tasks increase, successful delegation must become institutionalised, the rule rather than the exception. And for an organisation to succeed in the 21st century, it must employ the talents of the all, not the few.

It sounds great. Who could object? Well me, actually. And I’ll explain why in the next blog in this two-part series.

Until then, here are a few other articles on the PHL model.

A Framework for 21st Century Leadership

Leadership and Intelligence: The Essential Traits for Leadership Effectiveness

POST-HEROIC LEADERSHIP: Managing the Virtual Organization

The Greatly Exaggerated Demise of Heroic Leadership: Gender, Power, and the Myth of the Female Advantage

Image credit: Stinkie Pinkie.