Courageous vs. Heroic Leaders

There’s a huge difference

Todd Ordal

Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound! Is it Superman? No, it’s just another heroic CEO. Resembling Jimmy Olsen in his early career, our hero is somehow transformed by his newly refurbished office on mahogany row into a superhero!

These guys (yes, mostly guys) don’t exist much anymore, not because of kryptonite, rather because of an understanding of leadership that wasn’t around when Clark Kent was walking a beat.

I believe that there is a huge difference between courageous leaders and heroic leaders.

Courageous leaders solve problems by engaging their team and facilitating great discussions, asking great questions and yes, sometimes making unpopular decisions; but they do not require adoration for the results. Heroic leaders swoop in with answers that they developed on their own and take credit for the win… or blame someone else if it doesn’t work.

Some courageous leaders may have dynamic personalities, but they are just as often not the brightest guy or gal in the room, the life of the party or the poster boy or girl for most likely to succeed. Heroic leaders strive to outshine all others, not for the benefit of the organization—though certainly the organization sometimes wins—but for their need to be loved or feared.

Courageous leaders know when they are whipped and bring in support. They don’t give up; they just know when to call for reinforcements. Occasionally, they admit that they are not the right person to lead the charge. Heroic leaders continue to fight the wrong fight and then blame circumstances “outside of their control” or the actions of others.

Courageous leaders can be vulnerable and admit failure because it does not define them. Heroic leaders believe that you must “never let them see you sweat.”

Courageous leaders surround themselves with people who will tell them the truth. Heroic leaders surround themselves with bootlickers and wonder why they can’t find good people.

I’ve put a fine point on this to illustrate… a point. Some heroic leaders accomplish great things. While not fun to be around, they may take the hill or save the day. They do it, however, for their own benefit. Courageous leaders are just, if not more, likely to take the hill or save the day, but they do it with others and for the good of the organization. Sure, they feel pride, but they don’t need to see their face in the paper the next day. They may be someone’s hero, but that is not what drives them.

Todd Ordal is President of Applied Strategy LLC. Todd helps CEOs achieve better financial results, become more effective leaders and sleep easier at night. He speaks, writes, consults and advises on issues of strategy and leadership. Todd is a former CEO and has led teams as large as 7,000. Follow Todd on Twitter here. You can also find Todd at 303-527-0417 or [email protected].

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