Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Hero Leadership: seduction and collusion

There is a leadership style, known as hero leadership. It is characterised by followers waiting for the leader to make decisions, to be directed; to be saved.

For this is the type of leader who ride in on his white horse, in his shining armour, and saves everybody.  And yes, it is a "he", and only a "he". This is the prince in Snow White, King Arthur, Galahad, Alexander the Great, whoever we consider great heroes of history to have been: those who are so superb and above us, that we need do nothing. They will do it all for us, while we only need exist.

Needless to say, there is a real danger in hero leadership, because it means that followers need not indulge in critical thinking.

Amanda Sinclair, in her 2007 book, "Leadership for the Disillusioned: Moving beyond myths and heroes to leading that liberates", talked about the seduction and collusion of this style of leadership. She talked about the situation at Enron; how Jeff Skilling and Ken Lay were feted as the heroes within the organisation, as those who possessed all the ideas and all the answers.

When staff at Enron questioned how Jeff and Ken calculated their pricing and forecasting models, those staff will shut down. Questioning was not encouraged; no, more than that - it was actively discouraged.

This meant that there were really only two people within the organisation who could provide direction, decisions, and answers. This left everyone else without the ability to use initiative, critique, or to think for themselves.

it also encouraged staff to treat Jeff and Ken as gods, not as men, nor as members of the team. Jeff and Ken were above the team, not part of it.

When we start running things like this, we created a stratified organisation, where power and the solutions is largely concentrated at one level, while the problems mainly arise in another.

It can be very relaxing - seductive - to give up control, and to allow others to solve our problems for us. We humans love the dual myths of simple answers, and of having heroic leaders to be greater than we are. While Enron might have been a wild ride while it was happening, it was too good to be true. We want to believe the dream that others can do better than we can. We want our white knight: we have been conditioned to it since tales of childhood.

But that passivity becomes a vicious cycle which, over time, becomes an embedded unthinking behaviour that is very hard to change. And, in the case of Enron, it destroyed the organisation, destroyed people's careers, dissolved shareholders investments, and obliterated the retirement funds of all Enron employees, past and present.

Sinclair (2007, p. 5) argues that “leadership is often accomplished through ….collusive seduction, which can become so powerful as to forestall any criticism”. If we are passive followers, we collude with the seducers by our very passivity.

Our giving up of control allows the hero leader to take control. We enable.

it is not healthy, and we should fight against it every step of the way.


  • Reference: Sinclair, Amanda (2007), Leadership for the Disillusioned: Moving beyond the myths and heroes to leading that liberates. Australia: Allen & Unwin.


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