Management and Leadership in Nonprofits


The Hero

Aug 06, 2019

Nonprofit Leadership Blog - Wipfli

Ever work with a hero? You know who I’m talking about. This person works harder than anyone else, produces more than anyone else, creates better outcomes than anyone else and talks about how they do this more than anyone else. They’ll tell anyone who will listen. They always say they need help. However, the help accepted is really on their terms and good as long as they remain in control (the hero).

As a leadership coach, I often get to work with the hero or a leader who has a hero on their team. It’s easy to tell that they’re a hero because they tell me all about it. Sometimes they’re right — they are a hero and produce amazing outcomes. Sometimes, they’re really just like everyone else. In both cases, they possess one amazing flaw: They fail to develop others. I know this flaw exists when they share one special thought with me that goes something like this: “The only time I fail is when I’m not involved.”

Our organizations are made up of many great folks who are focused on our mission and vision. Each person is a part of creating successful outcomes. In a high-functioning organization, each member of the team understands their role in interacting with their teammates to help each other, maintain their focus and stay true to the mission. When a hero jumps in to this mix, the team is disrupted. The hero pushes beyond the team’s capabilities, setting themself up to “rescue” the team when they can’t keep up. The key word here is “rescue” rather than teach or develop.

The result is a hero who must stay involved to prevent failure and a team that begins to default to simply taking orders from the hero. Eventually, the high performers on the team leave as they are not able to achieve the learning and development they desire. The organization’s risk increases as it becomes more dependent on the hero and the quality of the team degrades. And if (when) the hero leaves? We know that answer…

As a leader, it’s easy to gravitate to the hero. At least on the surface, they deliver great results. Unfortunately, those results have a limited shelf life. Heroes burn out or lose interest when the heroic things are complete or begin to crumble.

Leaders need to look for the real heroes in their organization. You know who they are. They embrace and develop the team, creating sustainable futures. Sometimes the short-term result is not as shiny, but I guarantee the long-term result is a bright star.

Here’s my leadership challenge: Listen to your teams and seek to understand what moves them forward. Embrace consistent great work and challenge the short-term shiny object. I guarantee that this is a great recipe for real heroes and consistently great outcomes.

More of Steve Lipton’s blogs are available online.
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Wipfli Editorial Team

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