Paper Example on Heroic Leadership

Published: 2021-07-01
1890 words
7 pages
16 min to read
Wesleyan University
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Heroic leadership is associated with authentic leadership. It is the subject of many fantasies. More or less consciously, we tend to idealize the leader as a hero: a being situated above the melee, impermeable to doubt and anxiety. According to Max Webber, it is the ability of an individual to be classified as a heroic and devoted person is endowed with an innate sense of the charisma.

Linn, (2011) argues that heroic leadership implies that leaders are born as leaders or have leadership qualities from birth. Most historians tell stories in which the decisions of some great men radically change the fate of millions of others. Most biographies of great leaders present the heroic leaders as if they had come to the world with an extraordinary genetic endowment. Their future leadership role was predestined. After a moment of glory, this approach was criticized, but the modern era is witnessing a return to heroic leadership theory through the biographical and autobiographical narrative of great heads of state (Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln), Military chiefs (George Washington, Napoleon), or magnates of large companies (Davenport, & Manville, 2012). Genetic abilities would not be the trigger for leadership, but learning abilities would be the cause.


The origin of the leadership perspective can be traced on the observation of the leaders who succeed on a long-term basis shows a reality quite different from the fantasized figure of the conquering hero. The perception on how one can become aware of this gap between fantasy and reality in order to develop its leadership qualities gives a clear picture of the origin of heroic leadership.

Because of the notion of power that is associated with it, heroic leadership is the object of many fantasies (Allison, & Goethals, 2013). More or less consciously, we tend to idealize the leader as a hero: a being situated above the melee, impervious to doubt and anxiety, who knows the way forward and can thus shape the future by driving his entourage to triumph over adversity.

Nevertheless, the reality is very different. An expert in the search for leaders within Spencer Stuart, Justin Menkes conducted a study of dozens of presidents and CEOs of leading companies, to identify what characterizes these personalities. The lessons learned are well known. In particular, leadership turns out to require great lucidity about its own limits, much closer to humility than an arrogant spirit of conquest (Linn, 2011).

Becoming aware of the reality of heroic leadership is essential to avoid the pitfalls that lie ahead for the most brilliant and motivated to succeed. The author of "Flying without a Net" emphasizes that these personalities tend to want to preserve their image of success, which can easily lead them to blindness. The illusion that a leader is infallible and omniscient only reinforces this.

Allison, & Goethals, (2013) argues that heroic leaders adopt a position of lucid optimism. If they know how to focus on their vision, leaders must be careful not to ignore the realities that disturb them. Moreover, they have to recognizing its own limitations in order to mitigate it is a decisive condition for success over time. Another essential aspect of heroic leaders is that they never dare to rely on others, whether to guide their own development or to succeed in the projects.

Research application

Pyper, (2014) argues that in Western societies and in the capitalist model, the success of an organization is often associated with the qualities of its leader. Max Weber sought to study it by defining the charismas "the extraordinary quality of a personage, endowed with supernatural or superhuman forces or characters, inaccessible to ordinary mortals. These powers or qualities of divine or magical origin establish the leadership of the person concerned. The supernatural aspect of this approach was often reflected in the submission of fear and subordination by some of their CEOs. Carlos Goshn was presented as "Mr. 77" (in reference to his working time) or as the man who made the moral of the Japanese executives (before dismissing them when Nissan took over).

We also recall Martin Luther King's "magic" lyrics or Steve Jobs' luminous presentations (for product launches). The great speeches of some politicians seemed struck with this charismatic mark (Kennedy, de Gaulle, and Mitterrand). The analysis of their charisma focuses more on the effect of the subordinates than on the explanation of the foundations of the charisma (difficult to compare Gandhi and Carlos Goshn, but they can be attributed charisma to the effect caused by their speeches). According to some researchers, the subordinates would shape this quasi-magical dimension of the charismatic leader. The recognized skills are then extraordinary, even heroic ("the man who straightened out company X").

Cohen, (2013) also tried to explain the effectiveness of heroic leadership and its risks. The heroic leader finds his ideal space of evolution in case of crisis or of great uncertainty. The great heroic political leaders "exploded" on the occasion of major political and social upheavals. An example is the rise of Lech Walesa, the leader of the great Polish strike in the late 1970s, of Martin Luther King, the pacifist leader of African Americans in the 1960s. The call of 18 June, General de Gaulle still illustrates the importance of uncertainty. One can also think of Mao, or Fidel Castro in another register. Franklin Roosevelt emerges in a context of great crisis, with a new vision for America. Apple recalls Steve Jobs in 1997, to save the business. What is interesting is that we can take as an example big personalities but that the analysis also applies to "unknown", simple leaders of a hardening strike or on the occasion of a (A "heroic leader" may emerge). Some "strangers" initially became both heralds and heroes of a movement, suddenly brought to light (Daniel Cohn-Bendit in May 68, for example). However, this approach carries within it its own constraints and therefore a sort of "dark side" of the heroic leader.

The overbidding around this form of leaders has led some companies to place them on a pedestal by paying colossal sums (Pyper, 2014). The result has led to a "perversion" of the model towards an egocentric and vain type of leader, driven above all by his personal interest. Some historians mark the difference between Bonaparte and Napoleon (from the coronation) and bring to light an impressive number of heroic leaders who have become dictators (Fidel Castro, Stalin, Mao). All of them share the characteristics presented above but they have not been able to remain "at the service of the community. A 2001 study of 29 successful firms over the long term found that none was led by an egocentric leader (Collins, 2001).

Practical application

Based on findings in this field, Torres, (2011) imagined the implications for organizations and their leaders. On the practicability of application of heroic leadership, it is observed that the time of the "heroic" leader is over, and has given way to "the altro-centric leadership. It puts to the handing the leader who takes charge, gives direction, fascinates by his intellectual power and personal impact (Davenport, & Manville, 2012). The leader of tomorrow is living in an interdependent world, within an ecosystem that he does not try to control but in which he knows how to move. This is the opposite of the egocentric leader: "Altrocentric" means that he is oriented towards others; the leader does not need to put himself at the center. He knows he needs to listen to others. He knows that he must be intellectually and emotionally open.

With regard to heroic leadership, an organization may opt to have six major trends. To start with, an organization will have to consider it global trend. The centralizing and prescribing model becomes more protean to respond to the expression of local needs and the production of solutions closer to the customer. Secondly, an organization considers environmental trend: the climate and environmental crisis increasingly puts organizations under stress. The voice of employees, at the same time citizens and customers, is increasingly being heard to improve the environmental and social footprint of their employer.

Another trend is the individualization and pluralism of values: the individual is above all loyal and faithful to himself, to his values and his choices of life. The company is no longer its reference, nor its refuge. A heroic leader cultivates his personal capital. A demographics trend also plays a critical role. Longer life spans constrain generations to live more and longer together at work. New modes of interaction and the transmission of knowledge emerge. Another vital aspect is the digital trend that transforms types of interactions, access to information, perimeters of influence. It constitutes a counter-power with its potential for innovation as a nuisance. The tyranny of immediacy imposes itself; the multiplicity of data blurs the landscape. Moreover, heroic leadership plays a vital role in technological convergence: Nanotechnologies, biotechnology neurosciences, cloud computing modify our representations of the world (Cohen, 2013). New skills are emerging, while others are transforming or decreasing and hence innovation is an open system.

From the heroic leadership point of view organizational leaders can be at first glance develop a positive influence for the members of the team. Many will want to be in their winning group; followers will be remunerated and will have to learn from the leader through observation. From the point of view of the results, there is not much to reproach.

The interests of the company will always be above theirs. The classic hero receives the difficult mission to save some survivors of troy. Although heroic leaders at times have no charisma but these leaders devote first of all the time necessary to convince their team of the importance of the overall goal of the company. Heroic leaders should hence tap into that overall corporate goal into individual goals that will be assigned to each worker according to his or her strengths. In this way, organizations will be guaranteed the commitment of all; they will feel an important part of something great.


According to my point of view, heroes of the classic epic remain in force as a model of leadership. Heroic leaders have a distinct personality that fits perfectly with any of the current styles of leadership style. The leadership perspective combines high doses of ingenuity with an absolute lack of principles that manages to overcome the most adverse situations regardless of the means. For a heroic leaders ability to communicate and his charisma attract others to his personal project although the members of his team will be only a means to achieve their own goals (Torres, 2011). Therefore, a heroic leader does not mind losing them on the road.

According to my own perception on heroic leadership, the leaders should go to theirs and will never allow anyone to take them away from their personal project. They should avoid direct confrontation. If those who oppose their plans are superior, hierarchical they will flatter them to put them on their side and make them believe that they have the greatest idea. If on the contrary, the one that opposes is a companion or a subordinate will look for the way to go behind with some lie to remove them in between. Therefore, heroic leaders in many instances seem focused and work under fixed principles.


Allison, S., & Goethals, G. (2013). Heroic leadership (1st ed.). New York: Brunner-Routledge.

Cohen, W. (2013). Heroic leadership (1st ed.). San Francisco, Calif.: Jossey-Bass.

Davenport, T., & Manville, B. (2012). From the judgment of leadership to the leadershi...

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