We Don’t Need Another Hero? A call for heroic and inclusive diversity in the stories we’re telling about leadership…

We love a hero — but we often mistake “power over” assertiveness and risk-taking for heroism. The problem isn’t that heroes can’t be leaders, but that we have a narrow idea about what it means to be a hero (and, for that matter, what it means to be a leader!) When we understand heroic leadership as warrior leadership, we miss a whole class of heroes: caregiver heroes, jester heroes, or sage heroes.

If we’re going to ask our leaders to be heroic, they’d better be shapeshifter heroes, the way we expect them to innovate, stabilize, transform and soothe as they lead! We need to have access to every core archetype, every possible kind of heroic story, if we’re going to be able to sustain heroic leadership at all.

Here’s GretchenA on the idea of rewarding (warrior) heroic behaviors:

“The problem with rewarding these heroic behaviors is that you can create a culture where a “diving save” is seen as a good outcome regardless of the effort or longer term costs. Taken to extremes, these behaviors result in an individual walking around saving the world, but not empowering those among them, benefiting from their knowledge, or setting up systems where heroics are an exception rather than the rule. Just once, wouldn’t it be great to see Lois Lane and Jimmy Olson tell Superman that they have what he needs to resolve the situation, and they don’t have to depend on him to rescue them?”

According to Kavita Ramdas, global leader for women’s rights, now with the Ford Foundation, the problem is that we imagine heroic leaders should dominate situations and people, leading in prescribed ways. In her 2013 graduation address at Mt Holyoke, she said: ” We need much less domination and much more imagination to succeed in this twenty-first-century world.”

“We need uncommon women because the world faces uncommon challenges to which there are no easy solutions, no clearly marked entry and exit points that resolve global warming and growing energy needs; or logical explanations for why we spend more on manufacturing and selling weapons than we do on building schools or ensuring clean drinking water for all. After the marches and protests in Delhi in December many of us gathered again on VDAY—Valentine’s Day—we filled the streets keeping company with women and men in hundreds of cities in hundreds of countries around the globe to demand an end to violence. We were “one billion rising”—we were wearing pink and red and singing in the streets—we were Maya Angelou saying, “Does it come as a surprise that I dance like I’ve got diamonds at the meeting of my thighs?” We were Emma Goldman, part of a revolution that celebrated our right to dance!

We need women who are so strong that they can be gentle, so educated that they can be humble, so fierce that they can be compassionate, so passionate that they can be rational, and so disciplined that they can be free. We need uncommon women.”

And uncommon men, of course — uncommon heroes all around. That means thinking beyond our stereotypes about what it means to be a heroic leader. If we understand heroism as a response to a situation, not an identity — then we can choose a variety of responses. Sometimes it doesn’t take Superman heroics; sometimes we need a Florence Nightingale, a Hilary Clinton, a Kavita Ramdas.

Or a you. So, what kind of hero are you? Be that. It’s probably out of the stereotyped heroic box, and that’s a good place to start.


  1. Josephine Withers · · Reply

    David Christopher, in his brand new book, “The Holy Universe: A New Story of Creation for the Heart, Soul, and Spirit,” puts these words in the mouth of the Sage: “I don’t mean what Modern Mind means by the word ‘hero,’ as a solitary individual engaging in larger-than-life acts. The heroes I’m talking about are ordinary folks working together to change the way things are set up in our society — some working for large institutional change, others who are quieter, expressing their heroism closer to home through their daily acts. We need BOTH kinds of these heroes. [p 179]”
    Christopher’s book is a great and inspiring read — five stars.


  2. […] creative following. This news is even better — inspired by the heroic in books, fans are finding the heroic leader in themselves! Maybe, with this creativity, we are finding a new kind of heroic authenticity — […]


  3. […] leader is a myth that haunts us as we create a leadership story to live by. Stories of the “great men” and women who stood above all others in order to change the world have caused more damage […]


  4. […] We hardworking women should all have this book (and Barreca’s others as well!) on our shelf, as a drop-in, cheer up, think a bit, and get back to work cure for the high-pressure exercise of reading about super-hero leaders. […]


  5. […] to inspire rethinking leadership in collaborative and collective terms, looking at COMMUNITY not ONE-MAN/WOMAN leadership. It’s a provocative starting point for organizational and personal leadership […]


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