What is a hero?
A hero in an organisation is someone who is considered to be indispensible. The organisation will not survive without this person. The hero is the only person with a specific knowledge. A hero sacrifices himself for the organisation.
Common denominators for heroes
Some common denominators for a hero are these:
- Bad at communication
- Solves cumbersome problems
Bad at communication
A prerequisite for becoming an organisational hero is an unwillingness to communicate and share knowledge. Keeping knowledge enforces the need for the hero.
Everyone must come to the hero and ask. This means that the hero will feel needed and important.
The feeling of being needed is one of the human basic needs. We all like the feeling that someone needs us in some way. This makes us important. Much like children needs their parents. While this is important, it is also important to find a balance between being needed and teach other people how to remove the need for you. Again, like parents that raise kids to become independent individuals. This is something a hero won’t do. If the need for the hero vanishes, then he will not be a hero anymore. This could lead to lowered self esteem as well as reduced performance. Something the hero will try to avoid as long as possible.
Solves cumbersome problems
Solving trivial tasks is not something that will create a hero. The tasks a hero solves must be difficult and cumbersome. They must also be indispensible so they bring value to the organisation.
Becomes a bottle neck
The hero is the only person who can do certain tasks. The hero will therefore become a bottleneck and probably swamped with work. This can perhaps stop the organisation from expanding in some cases. An example can be if you need to maintain more test environments and it is impossible due to a limiting hero.
The solution to this is usually to work more hours. The hero doesn’t have time to find or reflect over better ways of working.
Not always self inflicted
Some heroes are heroes because they want to be the hero. This is not true for all heroes. Some have become heroes as a result of poor communication skills and therefore becomes silos of knowledge. The feeling created around this person gradually builds up and after a while he is considered invaluable. The person may be very frustrated about the situation because it is not easy being the hero. And worst of all, the hero is probably not aware of how to avoid being the hero. Or for that matter aware of the fact that their behavoiur is a part of the problem that make him a hero.
This behaviour can become the hero’s professional identity. This is the person who always will sacrifice himself and therefore become indispensible.
What enforces a hero
The behaviour of the hero is enforced by the need from the organisation. This means that the more the hero avoid sharing of knowledge, the more the organisation will need the hero.
A bad behaviour will be something negative for the organisation but positive for the person. This will eventually be self-enforcing.
Avoid becoming a hero
If you feel that parts of the signs above can be used to describe you, then chances are that you are turning into a hero in your current organisation. The way out from that behaviour is to work on spreading your knowledge. Have other people do some of the tasks you are so good at. Automate cumbersome tasks and share the knowledge on how to maintain the automation.
Try to delegate responsibility. If you used to be the only person who was allowed to do a certain task, empower others to do it.
Avoid hiring a hero
If you can spot the signs of a hero in an interview, avoid bringing this individual into the organisation. This is not a person that will strengthen your organisation. It may be a quick fix but it will not be sustainable solution.
Thanks to Lasse and Pia for inspiring conversations. Thank you Johan Helmfrid for reading and suggesting changes. Thank you Malin Ekholm for proofreading and putting up with me when I write on a weekend.