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“Where Have the Corporate Heroes Gone?”

Posted by on August 4, 2010 at 6:41 pm

This is the question that the Washington Post posed in an August 1 article on leadership to several noted business school academics from Harvard, Wharton, Columbia, the University of Virginia, the University of Southern California, and the London Business School.

Most scholars took issue with the word “heroes.” Sir Andrew Likierman, Dean of the London Business School, asked and answered: “So where have all the heroes gone? The same way as the heroes before them. Those who have the spotlight of publicity and fame come and go. We should look and learn, while reminding ourselves that uncritical admiration is probably best avoided after the age of 5.“

Corporate leaders should focus on leading, not hero status, period. Those who get swept up in fame and heroism are doomed to disappoint and to fail.

What corporations do need are leaders who promote a culture of leadership across the entire management team – not only in the CEO’s office or among his or her direct reports, but also among those who report to them, and the managers who report to them. A company that places its CEO on a pedestal in times of plenty will undoubtedly find itself swimming upstream when the tough times come along.

Every manager should feel empowered to lead, and should be trained to do so. Managers who merely tell their bosses what they want to hear, at every step along the way, are destined to create a snowball effect of mediocrity that will cripple the company’s objectives over the long-run.

That’s not to say that we should shelve the hero title completely in corporate America. True heroes exist and they can be showcased — but not within the executive staff. Instead, I suggest that corporate managers spotlight those individual contributors within the ranks; who bring creative thinking to the table; who seek to take responsible risks; and whose efforts lead to more innovative products, services, and processes.

These are the today’s real corporate heroes, and they should be treated as such from within.