The term “heroic CEO” has been used quite often as of late, according to Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, the senior associate dean of leadership programs, as well as the Lester Crown professor in the practice of management for the Yale School of Management.Throughout history, we look toward figures that simplify a path “needed to get through an area of distress,” he said. During war, for example, we look to generals for the answers. In the time of westward expansion, the pioneer spirit was ascendant. At other times, he claimed, when invention and technological explosion are predominant, we look to entrepreneurs, as well as scientists. “Little kids read their biographies and the press exalts them,” Sonnenfeld said. “That’s what has happened with CEOs. Amidst wrenching economic dislocation, the business leader is a figure that can be decorated as heroic.” Indeed, the allure of the hero is powerful, no thanks to Hollywood and the plethora of comic book heroes being released on screen. We’ve grown so attached to the concept that almost everyone is promoting the heroes path, to such an extent that it’s probably deeply embedded in our psyche from birth. Social entrepreneur Richard Wilson is of the belief that the appeal lies in the simplicity of good triumphing over evil, “and although we all know the world isn’t really like that, many of us secretly wish it were”.
Think of it as the Disney effect. There are plenty of princes and princesses in Disney movies, but there are many underdog heroes as well who succeed against all odds. There also always seems to be a gravity-defying happy ending. In a sense, watching a CEO conquer funding challenges or hearing about a founder’s idea being based off of the need to help others, has the same effect. He outlined, however, that real life’s “inherent complexity” is becoming more obvious. Wilson bases this fact on the knowledge that several heroic leaders who dominate our institutions today have fatal flaws. “First, they tend to be over-confident in their opinions,” Wilson said. “Secondly, they tend to lack empathy towards others. Thirdly, they tend to be inflexible. And finally, they tend to deny the existence of uncertainty.” This isn’t the fault of the leaders themselves, he stressed. Most of our leaders, as well as CEOs, are using outdated systems of leadership that were “built for simpler times”. Read more about CEOs:
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