3 Reasons Why Hero Worship is Dangerous

I’ve been contemplating the concept of what constitutes a hero lately. It’s hard not to do with the Olympics and tragedies that have unfolded in the U.S. in recent weeks (like the shooting at the premiere of The Dark Knight Rises and the massacre at a Sikh Temple.)

Stories of real people who perform amazing feats of athleticism and the even more amazing feat of saving others’ lives inspire us – and give all of us (especially children) the RIGHT role models to emulate. I also happen to believe that everyday heroes include people who aren’t celebrated or famous, but overcome great personal challenges/obstacles with bravery and perseverence, like the children living with autism or adults caring for a parent with Altzheimer’s disease.

Heroes are a necessary, and important, part of our lives and critical to a society that often seems to put the wrong folks up on that pedestal.

But what strikes me is that the hero worship that is so critical for our children (and our society at large) can do a great deal of harm in the workplace.

Do you promote a hero-worshipping culture? If so, you may be inhibiting productivity and innovation and driving talent out of the organization.

To me, hero worship becomes a problem when:

  • You rely on a “hero” to save a project. It’s great that you have someone who can come in to save the day, but it might be important to figure out why your projects always need to be saved.
  • Rewards and recognition are typically bestowed only on your heroes. What does that say to the rest of your team who perform as expected and do the right thing every day, managing your business, interacting with your customers and doing their part to achieve business results? It may not include heroics, but slow and steady wins the race.
  • Individuals who are recognized/rewarded work longer hours (at all times) and never say “no”. Don’t get me wrong … the best talent will work to get the job done vs. clocking out at 5:00 everyday regardless of deadlines. But we all know the folks who seem to work around the clock, sending emails at 1 a.m., working on the weekends, who want to be perceived as heroes. Sometimes, the best employees are the ones who work smarter, learn how to effectively delegate to others and can balance the demands of work and home life (thereby becoming role models for others).

Without a talent development strategy, I’ve watched so many skilled and essential employees  leave companies where the “work at all hours” culture isn’t just tolerated, it’s expected and celebrated, and seems to be the only way to get ahead and have a career.

Sheri Browning is a Partner at PeopleResults who specializes in leading change, when she’s not watching the Olympics. You can reach her at sbrowning@www.people-results.com or on Twitter @sbPResults.