5. Paradoxical Truths in Heroic Leadership: Implications for leadership development and effectiveness

Authors : Scott Allison and Jennifer Cecilione

In this chapter Scott Allison and Jennifer Cecilione explore the territory of heroic leadership, and the paradoxes therein. They take us through an understanding of the heroic leader’s journey on to six leadership paradoxes concerning fact and fiction, visibility and invisibility, choosing leaders and being chosen, building and destroying, viewing and reviewing, and the light and dark sides of personality. Readers can explore how the hero’s journey relates to their own. The authors have a depth of knowledge in psychology, Scott as a longstanding Professor of Psychology and author and speaker and Jennifer as a Psychology Teaching Fellow.

  • Introduction
  • Leadership and Heroism
  • Paradoxes of Heroism
  • Summary and Conclusions
Questions for reflection and discussion  
  1. How can you use the classic hero’s journey to maximize your effectiveness as a leader? First, consider which aspects of your personal and professional life parallel the classic hero’s journey. What unique challenges have you faced and conquered? What positive traits were you compelled to cultivate as a result of these challenges? What heroic mentors have provided invaluable assistance to you on your journey? What valuable life lessons (and organisational lessons) have you learned from these mentors? In what ways have you used the wisdom you have gleaned from past mentors to improve your leadership and/or your organisation?
  2. How can you use Paradox 1 – the truest heroes are fictional heroes – to enhance the effectiveness of your leadership? Specifically, what risks have you taken to foster better leadership? What sacrifices have you made? What important self-discoveries have you come to that have served you well on your personal and professional journey? In what ways have you been transformed, either personally or professionally? Have you shared your new-found gifts with others or used those gifts to help transform others?
  3. How can you use Paradox 2 – the most abundant heroes are the most invisible – to improve your leadership? The most important lesson of the transparent hero is that of humility. Although it is important for leaders to accentuate their positive qualities, leaders must do so in the role of the humble servant for whom service to others is not the means to an end but is the end itself. With all of your successes, how have you remained humble? In what ways are you careful to cultivate a non-arrogant image of yourself and of your organisation? Do you make sure that you are of service to others, both within and outside of your organisation?
  4. How can you use Paradox 3 – we do not choose our leaders, they choose us – to augment your leadership effectiveness? What practices do you employ to ensure that your leadership is authentic and not contrived? Are you careful not to show biases in the hiring and training of managers? Are your leadership practices based on substantive criteria and not simply on superficial appearance?
  5. In what ways can you use Paradox 4 – we love to build up our heroes and we also love to destroy them – to improve your leadership? Do you take steps to ensure that you follow the highest standards of ethical conduct? Do you ensure that your leadership team knows that any transgressions, even minor ones, can destroy a career and legacy? Develop an action plan for making every person who occupies a leadership position in your organisation aware of the implicit contract that exists between themselves their followers. Remember that the implied contract stipulates that followers will give heroes their loyalty as long as the heroes behave virtuously.
  6. How can you use Paradox 5 – we love heroes the most when they are gone – to maximize the effectiveness of your organisation? How can you capitalize on great leadership from the past in your organisation to motivate and inspire current followers? What are the inspiring qualities of these past leaders and how can you tap into those qualities to precipitate positive change in your organisation today? Develop a plan for resurrecting the genius of past leadership in your organisation to stimulate followers thereby creating a vision for greatness in your organisation.
  7. What lessons for effectiveness leadership can be gleaned from Paradox 6 – sometimes the darkest side of a leader’s personality produces the brightest leadership? What personality traits associated with human pathology might at times be useful – if harnessed toward a noble end – to engender the brightest leadership in your organisation? Have any past or present leaders in your organisations taken a controversial stand on an issue and were later shown to be pioneers who were ahead of their time? Could you use this genius to bolster your current organisation’s direction? Is current leadership in your organisation lacking the trait of fearlessness? Could leaders in your unit benefit from more judicious risk-taking? Is the leadership in your organisation so opposed to risk that bold, new, creative ideas are discouraged? Develop an action plan for encouraging the generation of daring new ideas from both leaders and followers in your organisation with the idea that heroic leadership involves revolutionary thinking and intelligent risk-taking.

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