by Judy Ryan
“The danger in larger-than-life heroes is that many get affixed to their perceived status and achievements to the cost of themselves and others.”
— Judy Ryan
I have met leaders who have accomplished great things. They have turned around multi-million-dollar debt in large organizations, climbed corporate ladders to elevated positions with incredible compensation, while doing good things. They convince themselves and others they have “arrived.” For the collective, those heroes who do not grow past this fail to lift others up. Worse, they neglect the needs of others. They don’t want to look too closely at options for how they use their power and influence. I am one of those people who is painting a picture of a world with different priorities and goals for everyone. To larger-than-life heroes this often reveals to them their priority motives.
Here’s a specific example. I met a business woman who admitted she had used tactics either modeled or advised that align to Ayn Rand’s view of life “that one’s own happiness is the moral purpose of one’s life.” While this leader had received crucial support in gaining her current sense of self-worth and success, she was challenged by seeing the need for the same in those for whom she had the power to help. As she shared the challenges of people in her workplace, and began to understand what systems needed to change, she came to realize she was not yet willing to do what she could despite what her heart was calling her to do.
I was fascinated to witness this woman, who had called me in to her life and allowed me for a short window of time to lead her to see her purpose and what she was called to be in the world and for the world. Being a hero is a dangerous place for her in this, because she now sees multiple paths; to what she knows that aligns with her purpose or her status. She began to experience discomfort in the knowing. To choose OUT of existing power structures is a big deal and many high-powered leader heroes don’t realize they are afraid to shift in this. We are all subject to fears that we are not enough, that we are somehow inferior or a fraud. Many larger-than-life heroes are often driven by these fears.
Win/lose is the basis of all inequalities and struggle. Most people don’t question what causes this to be the choice made. If we do not correct the win/lose thinking and behaving that leads to people feeling inferior, we are part of the very system that avoids seeing real pain and struggle within people and between them, including the pain in the hero. Some “heroes,” like this woman, come to glimpse what is really happening, what is crucially needed, and how they are best positioned and equipped to facilitate such changes, yet are unwilling to do so. Being a hero is often dangerous because it keeps everyone small, no matter how many positive results are otherwise accomplished and recorded.
I told this woman about Dan Price, CEO of Gravity Payments, who ensured his lowest-paid employees make at least $70K a year and his highest paid no more than four times more or $280K per year. This last part really rattled her because she could see, and more importantly she could feel the holes in her own concept of success and possibilities. On one level, she had called in this truth about what was needed, and see a new path, and yet this was no comfort to her. She was facing her fear of losing the only solid ground she trusted to date. She had awareness without yet having the willingness and courage to act on her new knowledge. This left her with a significant dilemma.
When larger-than-life heroes fail to create conditions and conversations in which everyone feels and is authentically empowered, lovable, connected and contributing, we all live from fear and we all disengage to some degree. Also, when the hero leaves, much falls apart in the organization and often the hero’s own health. This woman knows what she now cannot unlearn. Now you do too. The danger of the larger-than-life hero is that unless they see what is really happening and respond from LOVE, they are overriding their own conscience and fear of personal cost to maintain their status. If YOU feel inspired to make change my article is describing here, call me. I can help.
Judy Ryan (judy@LifeworkSystems.com), human systems specialist, is owner of LifeWork Systems. Join her in her mission to create a world in which all people love their lives. She can also be reached at 314-239-4727.
People hire LifeWork Systems because we help businesses become agile and manage their priority system: their human system. I hope this article helps you make sense of what’s most crucial to your evolving organization!