Hero Manager

How to Transition from Hero Syndrome to Distributed Leadership

With 4 Leadership Skills for Managers Making the Transition

Carl, a very seasoned and capable production manager recently shared, “I’m going to retire early because I can’t take the stress anymore.” Business volume and complexity had overrun Carl’s traditional top-down management approach. When I pressed Carl for why he feels like he must make all the decisions his answer was revealing, “I’ve always been the go-to guy and senior management expects me to solve every problem.”

Carl suffers, in part, from hero syndrome, the strong need to be right, to be Mr. fix-it, to be chief firefighter. Additionally, a traditional control management structure reinforces team members to be order-takers, not co-owners of accountability and outcomes.

“All failure is failure to adapt, all success is successful adaptation.”

–Max McKeown

Distributed leadership, as opposed to a control management style, is partially defined as, “Leadership activity as a whole is stretched, or distributed, across many people.”

Accountability for results, quality, and decision-making gets distributed to team members. Through its 14 Lean Management Principles, Toyota embodies distributed leadership by empowering teams to solve problems, accept accountability, and make localized decisions.

4 Skills for Building a Distributed Leadership Structure

  1. Build Shared Cognition. This is a vision + mission statement on steroids. Team members must clearly understand, internalize, and commit to a renewed way of working. Leadership communicates the Why and What but not the How. Team members will learn to accept greater accountability for decision making, with formal leadership serving as guidance. CRM (crew resource management) offers a blueprint for transitioning from a command structure to a distributed leadership matrix.
  2. Clarify Expectations. This includes new team structure – roles, responsibilities and agreed upon approach to achieving results. Example: Beginning Monday morning we will have daily huddle-ups. The first 10 minutes will be business status updates, the second 10 minutes we will surface issues or challenges and create action plans with individual accountability distributed among team members.
  3. Continuous Improvement. Conduct on-going After-Action-Reviews or PDCA (lean manufacturing) cycles. The guiding adage – never confuse ceaseless activity with progress – instructs leaders and her teams to engage in regular reflection and learning loops. The opposite is a culture that hides its problems, rejects fresh ideas, and slowly stagnates.
  4. Psychological Safety. Trust does not exist without agreements and agreements do not exist without trust. The backbone of a distributed leadership structure is strong, positive, and committed relationships. Gifted leaders pay equal attention to relationships as they do tasks.

“A successful company is one that can learn effectively.”

–Ariel de Geus

Managers who suffer from hero syndrome will also quickly suffer from burnout. A single person can’t possibly put out all fires. That’s why firefighters come in teams. By following a distributed leadership structure, the hero-manager can help shape a hero-team, which lessens the burden on any one individual.

Keep it Simple. Keep it Focused. Definitely Keep it Inspiring! -Steve

As always, check out my other blog posts for even more great manager-coaching tips!

The Hero-Manager Complex and 4 Tips on How to Avoid it

The townspeople are in trouble, the enemy is at the gates. There is only one who can stop the threat, it’s superman(ager).

The drive for accomplishment, to be the champion for your team, and win the day for your organization are traits of excellence. However, when these traits are coupled with frenetic leadership, crisis addiction, and overstretching, you end up working against yourself.

The impact on the organization can feel like you are pushing the accelerator with one foot while simultaneously braking with the other.

“In addition to having a commitment to a mission or a desire to establish a meaningful legacy, heroic stature is just one of several hallmarks of transformational leaders. But this particular quality is most often distorted and poorly managed.” –Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, Fortune

If you chase every shiny object, your people will burn-out. When you create a constant state of crisis, your team will lack development. If you manage based on individual personalities, your best people won’t get the recognition they need… and underperformers get by on a smile.

If anything above looks like you, you might be suffering from hero-manager complexgreat for your own ego but bad for developing your people’s capacity.

4 Tips for Avoiding the Hero-Manager Complex

Tip # 1 – Ease up on yourself. Really. The rewards for being the go-to gal or guy, whether internal (self-esteem, confidence, pride) or external (compensation, promotion, recognition), are powerful forces. Giving some control away by empowering others can be scary, but well worth it. Have patience with yourself as you learn to delegate and collaborate. The rewards of growing your people outweigh the risks of feeling a little bit out of control!

Tip # 2Don’t be afraid to fail. You can’t plan on failure, nor should you. Dare to assign novel, challenging projects that invite failure. The athlete or musician who never fails is most likely not pushing his or her limits. Be tolerant of “tolerable mistakes.” Follow Gore-Tex founder Bill Gore’s principle of action – “Never make mistakes below the waterline.”

Tip # 3 Coach up, coach into a position of strength, or coach out. High performers hate being on a team with laggards. Laggards, however, love playing with high performers; all the benefits, none of the sweat. Great managers aren’t fooled. Or look at it another way, effective talent managers, like dedicated gardeners, are always weeding out low performers and toxic attitudes to create more room for their top talent flowers to bloom. By tolerating low performance, you risk sending signals to high performers that perhaps they should jump the fence to more fertile ground.

Tip # 4 – Delegate. Delegation is so important that it merits repetition. Strategic delegators match individual strengths to project demands, thereby enhancing the whole team. Weak delegators can actually handicap an organization’s future performance. Effective delegation is an insurance policy against tomorrow’s marketplace uncertainties.

The key to overcoming the hero-manager complex is to trust and invest in your people, and to lift them up to face the challenges of your business.

Keep it Simple. Keep it Focused. Definitely Keep it Inspiring. –Steve

As always, check out the resources page for tons of great content that can help you improve your manager-coach skills today.