The `HERO LEADER` (posted on Linkedin by me on :4/2/08)

We all are aware of this vicious circle.However for the sake of getting everybody on the same page let me recapitulate it once more:
The circle begins with a crisis which leads to the search for a new CEO in whom all hopes are invested.The new CEO acts proactively and aggressively,and makes some dramatic short term improvements such as cutting costs and improving productivity.Everyone then falls in line to please the new CEO,who does not suffer fools gladly ! Employees comply rather than work hard to challenge the status quo,and a new crisis inevitably occurs.This vicious circle does not result in new thinking or organisational learning or renewal,or even growth and in turn feeds our desire to find new hero-leaders.
The Question:Do you agree here with Senge that little significant change can occur if it is driven from the top?and Top management buy-in is a poor substitute for geniune commitment and learning capabilities at all levels in an organisation?

 Harish Nair
Founder , Ragnar & Rearden Consultants

This was selected as Best Answer

Hi Shalini,

In the context of building a learning organization, Peter Senge has correctly identified the pattern behind the search for hero’s, the hero worship and how they leave the organization much weaker in its ability to affect structural changes long after they have gone.

All our movies, mythology and history is built around the concept of Heroes. While there have been exceptional leaders in all of these what is often masked or is not apparent is how the supporting systems and structures enables these guys to perform outstandingly. The contexts and social systems in which they operated too were much different. But revealing the complexity behind it all does not make for a great story. A great story where the hero overcomes all odds and emerges victorious and glides away with the heroine into the sunset appeals much more to our sensibilities. The same is therefore perpuated thru our books and movies and we are surprised when heroes fail.

The moot point here that Senge makes is to build learning organizations where every employee is genuinely engaged in learning rapidly. This learning capability is the only capability that can genuinely enable the organization to survive and grow amidst rapid changes in its environment and markets. And he talks about the five disciplines that together will enable building such learning organizations, in his book.

As far as top management buy-in is concerned, research would prove that it proves only a short-term burst rather than sustained energy to manage changes and grow. Any real change or progress is made when the leaders or the top management leadership engages with the employees at all levels and secures their buy-in. Hundreds of corporates have learned this lesson at a heavy price.

Harish Nair

Clarification added 18 days ago:
research would prove that it proves only a short-term burst to be read as

” research would prove that it provides only a short-term burst’ ..Sorry.
 Shawn Slevin
HR and Human Capital Solutions Provider; Chair Swim Strong Foundation

All of this is complex. Short term “gains” remain short term if there are no resources invested to build sustainability…and if there is no interest in building a culture of engagement. This is really the hard work and requires that all systems be aligned to achieve it. It’s an end to end process which includes listening to the voice of the customer; developing products that the customer wants; having a customer service philosophy that really serves the customer (what a concept!); celebrating talent in your organization; having the right operational systems in place for effeciency; having the right human capital systems in place to support your talent and organizational goals and at the other end, creating value for happy shareholders. No small order for any organization.
Thnx for asking

 Vindy Hansra
Business Adviser, Consultant, Rainmaker

Measuring the level of change, whether small or large, is rather subjective. The change owner may view the criteria for success very differently from the subject of the change. This is often the case when the change is driven from the top-down, and compliance is often seen as the indicator of success. You could argue that a change is successful if the levels of productivity and satisfaction return to normal after a nominal period following the introduction of the change. The answer to the question is therefore more complex than a straightforward ‘yes’, and is perhaps better answered as ‘it depends’. It depends on whether sustainability of the change is taken into account also. It depends on the company culture; whether it is top or middle management that have a bigger influence over subordinates. It depends on whether or not compliance is good enough; a regulatory change that demands new ways of reporting will require compliance, whereas a move to a performance management culture will also require behavioural changes. Success in the latter is very often driven from within the ranks at line manager-level.

 Heather Stagl
Discover your path to organizational change and leadership

I would argue that significant change CANNOT happen without being driven — or at least significantly bought into and supported — from the top. People look to senior management for cues, however subtle, on what is important and what is not and modify their behavior accordingly. It is through top management buy-in that genuine commitment can occur, because without it, people lose hope.

At the same time, compliance is not the way to significant lasting change. I would hardly call someone who uses authoritarian short-term methods a “hero leader.”


 Pete “NetDoc” Murray
Owner and Visionary

Changing leaders will accomplish little if the reasons for the crisis are not identified and dealt with. The most effective leaders are those who INSPIRE others to do all the work, that is to figure out the problems and effect the changes needed. This takes a real commitment to empowerment and a giving up of control. It’s not so much that the leader has to buy in: the lower levels have to contrive a solution and the leader has to enable those changes. Sure, he may need to veto a change here and there, but if he is doing his job, he has inspired his team to greater heights.
 Matthew G. Sherman
Director of Mktg & Biz Dev at Welsh & Katz, Ltd., Change Agent, Mentor

Organizations require different leaders for different phases in their growth. A “Hero Leader” who does nothing more than chop operating costs can certainly drive change from the top, but as others have said, the company culture will eventually rebel and change will slow or reverse. Some companies certainly need “chainsaw” leaders, who come in to perform surgery. But these folks should not be embraced for the long term.

Change can be driven from the top and that change can be substantial. Employees want to be led. Afterall, we tend to be a big herd with a herd mentality. However, if you have a leader who leads by fear, an organization will likely lose every other top executive it has because those environments are no fun, are not engaging and suck the lifeblood out of good people. If executives begin leaving and middle managers begin losing faith in the “Hero Leader,” then line workers will lose their zeal for driving change.

Effective leaders set the organization’s course and then provide the tools and the encouragement to get everyone to push in that direction.

Hero Leaders or “saviors” can walk on water for awhile, but often their skill set is limited, their “playbook” is set in stone and their patience is hair-trigger short. These leaders eventually sink. The challenge for organizations is to determine when to cut them loose so they don’t sink the entire company.
 Claudia Del Giudice
Highly Motivated Marketing Manager

Hi Shalini,
That is a very complex topic and a great question!
I believe the process is not that easy, within a capitalistic system and in the reality, where the bottom line is profit. However, It is very interesting to capture the spirit of “interrelationship” of Senge systems theory and its long-term view: delays and feedback loops are very important: in the short term, you can often ignore them, while, they come back to you in the long term.
This basically leads to the ability to see an organization as a whole and to understand the interrelationship between the parts, seeing the organization as a dynamic process. He also underlines that: “Organizations learn only through individuals who learn. Individual learning does not guarantee organizational learning. But without it no organizational learning occurs’ (Senge 1990: 139)”. People with a high level of personal mastery live in a continual learning mode: they never ‘arrive’.
I believe that seeing the organization as a dynamic process means you can look at little significant change from top or bottom as a cycle, where one change influences the other. In this perspective the genuine commitment and learning capabilities of top management can facilitate significant change together (not in substitution) with others. It happens something similar to personal change in human beings: if your vision (your top) changes, your values, your behaviors and the environment will change. The opposite is much less probable or, maybe, slower.

 Ravindran Gangadharan
Technologist – Enterprise Information Systems

I would say a lot depends on how the leadership team ensures the holistic vision of success and harmony (if at all) is driven into the bottom half. I have had experiences when senior management would celebrate success, congratulate my team and praise my managers for reason unknown. Great companies generally infuse a sense of spirit across the depth and breadth and size and culture can be a challenge here (and that is why startups are fun to work for).

The Hear Leader might very well be a success, look at HP for example. But again, just like getting drunk one night does not take away the problems next morning (if anything can only make it worse), the Hero Leader should have the vision to turn around the company like a wheel than smoke his ideas to the roof.
 Jason Koulouras
Director at TSX – Head of Business Development (Market Data), LION, Six Hats Thinker, Open to New Connections

Any decision to bring such a person on by the Board of Directors (or others making the decision) is not to be taken lightly and only under circumstances where the organisation’s short term financial viability is in question and an aggressive change is required. I think of the person who has a heart attack, gets revived (aggressive action) but then needs to make committed change to avoid/minimise the next heart attack.

I think significant change is possible from the top and may be all that is available in the toolkit if the short term future of the organisation is in question. In the long run, buy-in is needed to sustain change and growth.

 Martin van Laerhoven
Consultant and Contractor

Hi Shalini,
I like to shine a different Light on this subject.
I disagree with the statement “That little significant change can occur if it is driven from the top” I also have to say that significant change does not always come from the top.

My experience is there are people in each organization who are willing to take on the management of change. They can be found in each part of the organisation and are really the drivers of change. They will introduce change them self or support it fully when properly introduced and felt to be necessary in the organization

Without them nothing would happen but with them and no support from the top no dramatic change could occur either. These are the people that act as if the company is their own and who are also willing to change themselves to get the results, sometimes these are the unsung heroes as they do not rely on motivation from the top but by their own motivation.

For this reason sometimes these people are also used and misused and their supervisor might take all the credit while he was only the instigator of change, these people made it happen.

Change in any organisation if it needs to be dramatic and complete needs the full cooperation of all levels and parts of the total organisation.

 Vijay Michael
An Optimistic & Energetic leader with “Business Development & Operations” experience in IT products and services

Hi Shalini,

Companies are like living beings which go through different stages from start-up moving to Infancy and so on. At every stage it requires a different set of leadership skills and CEOs are the specialists who drive the through a specific phase.

In this case the need of the hour was to overcome a crisis and the organisation needed someone to act and get things done. At times it is necessary to get all to comply to the companies immediate goals.

Now to answer the question. Top management buy-in ensures that any new strategy or company wide initiative meets with success. And it is good to be driven from the top to ensure clarity and focus.

 Bryan Lund
Global Lean Mfg. Coordinator

Change will not happen if all that is expected is compliance. The two concepts, when considered seperately, cannot co-exist. However, if the top leader expects people to: 1) adhere to job standards, 2) assume that their job is to test the job standards, 3) correct any abnormalities from standard, 4) standardize the solutions, you can achieve COMPLIANCE and CHANGE. NOT easy, because this approach requires a long term approach, NOT a short term approach.

 Sundar Vanchinathan
CEO. Open Door Associates, Marketing Consultant


In an ideal organization where employees are passionately motivated from with-in and are courageous to voice their opinions, the change can arise from the employees. However, most organizations do not work in an ideal environment. I believe that in a ‘real’ organization the change has to be driven from the top while encouraging the employees to participate. If the leader in position has strong leadership values and does walk the talk, employees will not only trust and listen to the leader but also have the courage to challenge the status-quo.
Rose M Robin
Manager – Human Resources

Dear Shalini,
Yes I agree that a significant change shall occur if it is driven from the top… But this change shall set in with the existing culture of an organisation.

 Christian Aspegrén
Adviser to Global Growth Ventures  Facilitator V2C

Hi Shalini,
A key word here is significant.
All significant change efforts must be driven from the top but there will be no significant change unless all key individuals in the organisation understands what the change requires from them and what the result will be and commit themselves to the change process. They will be responsible for the change, but permanent change will only be achieved if a more competitive modus operandi has been created. A top executive buy-in is often an excellent way to draw attention to the need for change.


 Mathias Carvalho
Owner, Desmarins Mídia Digital and Internet Consultant

Hi, Shalini. Can we use Apple’s Steve Jobs’ career as an example that could prove/disprove this concept?

 Terrence Seamon
Facilitating Change – Achieving Results

The leader in this “vicious circle” that you describe is not a hero, at least in my book. Maybe their actions result in a turnaround and therefore saves jobs. That’s a good thing. But all too often, in my experience, these cost-cutters are really hatchet men whose arrival is the harbinger of a bloodbath.

A true hero leader would renew and revitalize an organization, turning it from a moribund place to one that is alive and dynamic.

 Sanjeev Himachali
HR Professional, Researcher, Motivator, Thinker, Career Coach and Human Relations Counsellor

I agree with this and I do see some cultural angle to this.
Let me explain to you. There is company which is in mess because there is no CEO in the company.
The management is desperate to hire a CEO because they want someone to take responsibilities and accountability. In other words, they are looking for some EXTERNAL person to take them out of the mess, because they believe in the proverb, “Ghar ki murgi daal brabar”. Here, the key words are RESPONSIBILITY, ACCOUNTABILITY and EXTERNAL MOTIVATION.
Once someone joins and implement some minor changes, then the company as well the management try to see this under microscope and it appear very large to them.
When they notice “positive change and effect”, all of them come together to take the credit. Thereby, they again push the company in chaos and mess.
I hope this analysis makes some impact.

Looking forward to hear from you.

Thanks and Regards
 Tim Tymchyshyn (no one home)
Chief Bottle Washer in the Church of the Evangelistic Unwired and LinkedIn’s Bad boy

lots of companies like that in this world, where they succeed in spite of themselves
change comes from top down or bottom up nothing happens from the middle as they ae the ones mostly afraid for their jobs
 Doug Hering [LION]
Creative and Fun Strategic Leader with expertise in financial management, customer service, and inspiring teams

I think a lot of change can be top down. I left a company a while back due to the executive management and the culture that was created. Since I have left, new executive management has completely changed the culture and morale.


Author: Shalini Verma

Hi ! I am Shalini Verma and I help people to Achieve continuous inspiration and success , aid them to FREE energy from patterns and programmes that no longer serve them , partner with them to CREATE energy by putting into place regular work and life practices that are inspiring and sustaining and to MOBILIZE energy by taking intentional action into new oppurtunities and adventures . If you are ready to make inspiration and success your daily reality......then we are ready to go !

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