The end of heroes

Mike Carden
Mike Carden | February 10, 2020
Leadership
The end of heroes

Set a goal so big that your company cannot possibly achieve it alone.

At Joyous our goal is to make life better for working people.

Why? Firstly, because it’s important. People spend a huge part of their lives at work. The emotional and physical impact of work extends well outside of work hours. If you work in HR, and you want to solve the biggest problem in HR, solve that one. Make life better for working people.

Secondly, it is a goal so big that we at Joyous cannot achieve it alone. Which is a very good thing, because it forces us to think way beyond our current capability. It forces us to collaborate.

The Great Man is less good than great people

The Great Man Theory is a 19th-century idea in which history is explained by the impact of heroes: unique individuals with such intellect and courage that they shape history.

Even editing out the 19th century sexism you’ll find that much of the portrayal of leadership we see today still buys into this idea. The news is so full of stories of The President that it’s easy to forget it is the collective impact of the other 300 million Americans that really shapes American life.

It’s the same in corporations. All our working lives we’ve been taught to idolise the hero CEO: the charismatic champion who has a lofty goal and drives the company through the specific, measurable steps necessary to achieve it.

But is that model of leadership really something to aspire to?

Laura Davies is a champion of the B-Corp movement. In her TED talk on collaborative leadership she tells the story of an early senior role at a New Zealand snack food company. “One quarter of all snacks eaten by Kiwis will be one of our products,” was her rallying statement. It was measurable. She knew how to get there. But this goal was as limiting as it was isolating.

Because leadership isn’t a hero working alone to save the day. Leadership should foster interdependence. The most important problems cannot be solved alone, but by collaborating - and that collaboration should be free to stretch outside the limited walls of the corporation.

We don’t need another hero

So what does make life better for working people look like? The truth is we don’t really know. It’s not an absolute. There’s no standard definition, no playbook, no steps we can guide everyone through to achieve this goal.

It’s funny. As a leader, if you choose a big enough goal, you realise that you don’t - that you cannot possibly - have all the answers. You’re going to need to work with others to find them.

Which is both humbling, and entirely the point.