Project Management

Bygone Heroes

Dennis Smith

'Heroic' leaders thrive on power and hierarchy. Their need to control can throttle communication and innovation on projects, frustrating teams and slowing progress. What drives heroic leaders, and what can be done about them?

This is the third article in Dennis Smith's series on organizational project management issues.
The focus of this series is on transforming your projects and organization to either a networked or a self-organizing style. This column addresses the reality that in many organizations, a "heroic" leader sits on top and runs everything, including the projects. I will briefly describe how these organizations work (realizing that many readers are already too familiar), and more time later in the series addressing how to improve results in such an organization; that is, how to drive the transition of heroic organizations to more productive and worker-friendly styles.
In the extreme, heroic leaders believe that success is a result of their actions. They may be the aggressive business climber, the family member that has taken on the business, or the entrepreneur who trades on having "done it all" once and leverages that success to the benefit of personal power.
One of the heroic leader's strongest motivations is rooted in what management theorist Rensis Likert described as the "need to …

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'Human existence must be a kind of error. It may be said of it: "It is bad today and every day it will get worse, until the worst of all happens."'

- Arthur Schopenhauer