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Correctly insert these two terms into the famous quotation shown below to make it accurate:

A. hero

B. wise man

“A ________ is born among a hundred, a _________ is found among a thousand, but an accomplished one might not be found, even among a hundred thousand men.”

Before I reveal the answer, I’ll give you a hint: this month’s blog pertains to Number 6 in my Ten Sins of Leadership, “You Try to be a Hero.”

If you guessed a “wise man” is born among a hundred and a “hero” is found among a thousand, you’d be incorrect. In fact, it was Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna who said:

“A hero is born among a hundred, a wise man is found among a thousand, but an accomplished one might not be found, even among a hundred thousand men.”

What Nagarjuna was suggesting in the 1st century BC is fundamental to what leadership research is pointing to in the 21st century. And that is, “heroes” are secondary to “wise people” and even tertiary to “accomplished people.” I use the term “people,” because there’s plenty of research that suggests that gender has zero bearing on wisdom, accomplishments or even heroics.

But I digress.

If you’re a leader, chances are you’ve sought to be admired, accepted and respected at one time or another. Even if this isn’t what compelled you to climb the ladder in the first place, there’s no shame in admitting to these qualities, which can often be a side effect of ambition. Amongst those who seek to lead, good intentions are often the “yin,” while ego is often the “yang.” However, unless you believe in comic books, western movies or the rhetoric of North Korea, heroes and great leaders are rarely one and the same.

From a business standpoint, a leader with a “hero complex” does little to lead a company. In fact, today, it’s generally accepted that workplace efficacy relies on collaborative processes, rather than top down, heroic actions. If you’ve ever been fortunate enough to tour companies like Microsoft, Google and Pintrest, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

From a business standpoint, a leader with a “hero complex” does little to lead a company. In fact, today, it’s generally accepted that workplace efficacy relies on collaborative processes, rather than top down, heroic actions.

Joseph Badaracco, Professor of Business Ethics at Harvard Business School puts it like this:

“Everybody loves the stories of heroes like Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Teresa, and Gandhi. But the heroic model of moral leadership usually doesn’t work in the corporate world. Modesty and restraint are largely responsible for the achievements of the most effective moral leaders in business.”*

In other words, you are not, and never should be a hero for your cause… because nobody wants one anyway. Effective leaders have widely different styles and rarely do the good ones have a yearning to wear tights and a cape. So work with your own style, be modest and restrained, and know that a leader isn’t a someone who performs a soliloquy, but a director who adroitly encourages all the actors to perform their best.

Thanks for reading,

Greg

*Joseph Badaracco. “We Don’t Need Another Hero.” Harvard Business Review, September 2001

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CONTACT ME

Inscape Consulting Group
Greg Nichvalodoff, BSc. BM (Honors), MBA, PCC, CMC
Office: 604.943.0800
Mobile: 604.831.4734
greg@inscapeconsulting.com

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