Amid the recent #metoo social media campaign to raise awareness of sexual violence, and the flood of allegations against powerful and famous men that has followed, a social media post caught my eye. Its author lamented, “If we keep digging into everyone’s pasts, will there be any heroes left?”
As a woman who had reflected deeply prior to posting the hashtag #metoo, I had a strong reaction to the implication that we should consider protecting the reputations of these “heroes.” But as my immediate flash of anger receded, I began to contemplate whether this concept of a “hero” might be part of the problem. Don’t get me wrong, the stories of courageous and selfless acts of individuals can often move me to tears. There’s no question in my mind that we should recognize the people responsible for those heroic acts. But the designation of an individual as a “HERO” or even a “SHE-RO” seems to carry with it some myths of heroism that run counter to the philosophy of Values Based Leadership that I see as a path to a wiser and more compassionate world.
Consider these myths we often hold about heroes, and an alternative view — of leaders, rather than heroes:
Heroes Will Save Us
So often we hold up heroes as those who will save us – from the popular ’80s song “Holding out for a Hero” to the tales we tell our children of slayed dragons and rescued damsels, we promote the vision of hero as someone who will come along and pluck us from the jaws of danger, or from living unfulfilled lives.
Leaders, on the other hand, are those who do something much more powerful. They develop other leaders. Leaders remind us of our own capacity to save ourselves, and the power of our own choice to live our lives guided by our values.
“No man is great enough or wise enough for any of us to surrender our destiny to. The only way in which anyone can lead us is to restore to us the belief in our own guidance.” ―Henry Miller
Heroes Are Infallible
Once designated as a “hero,” we often begin to idealize that individual. We forget that they are a human being capable of mistakes. To admit that a hero is fallible – by the hero themselves or by others – seems to threaten something fundamental to us. To protect our worldview from being challenged, we may act to protect the “hero” by ignoring or excusing their behavior, even when they cause harm to others.
But Leaders are accountable, admit mistakes, and learn from those around them. They are open to feedback, knowing that they are imperfect beings and that true leadership requires ongoing learning and growth. True leaders seek to have a positive impact on others.
“Great leaders are willing to follow. Leadership is a dance, not a parade.” -Jesse Lyn Stoner
Heroes Are Rare
Our mythology of heroism is that there are few among us who have the capacity to be designated as heroes. In this case, I agree – and argue that perhaps there are really none. How many of these super-human beings who save others, while never making a mistake, have you met?
My sense of hope for a better future is instead shaped by the number of Leaders I encounter. They are imperfect, and they occasionally conduct acts of incredible heroism. They are intensely committed to learning and growing every day.
Borrowing from a popular saying:
Leaders. May we know them, may we be them, may we develop more of them.