One thing that happens when you work to develop change across an organization: you detect the “cultural” elements of an organization that often go unnoticed by the people involved. Just as a “Fish discovers water last,” people working in a cultural context can be fairly unaware of the implications of their culturally influenced decisions. “It’s the way we’ve always done it, here.”
One cultural influence that I’ve seen, quite often, in organizations that are struggling to grow past a particular size, is the “culture of heroes.” This pattern of behavior has the following smells:
These are signs of a culture of heroes.
And they are a big problem.
Let’s first recognize that, for any snapshot of 100 people in the same role, there are two or three that have risen up to become well respected experts. There are 20 or so that can lead a group, and the rest are following. One of those “folks in the rest” may mature, of course, and may be ready in the future to lead or become one of those well respected experts. These are not labels. But, at any one point in time, the ratios often work out this way.
This is human nature. Nothing wrong with that. The problem comes when you feed it.
As a leader, you cannot avoid a variation in skills and experience. However, the true leader recognizes that there are people who want to grow. He or she will want to create an intentional culture that not only fosters that growth, but encourages individuals who are the experts to “step aside” a little, and allow the non-experts to have a chance at solving tough problems.
If your culture keeps coming back to a handful of heroes, no one else in the team can grow. The people who naturally WANT to grow will leave. And you are left with an organization of people who don’t want to grow.
If no one in your organization wants to grow, the organization won’t grow. Plain and simple.
Not only that, your organization won’t evolve. It won’t improve. It won’t optimize. It won’t do ANYTHING interesting or new. That’s because all the people who could benefit by change, all the people who have fresh ideas and novel approaches and interesting influences, have run away to other organizations where they can try those ideas out.
And that is what the culture of heroes does… it kills the spark of change in a group of people.
So don’t let the heroes stunt the growth of your organization. Look around. If you have heroes who usually get called, ask THEM to be heroes in a different way… heroes for growth.
A hero for growth makes this decision:
If you are a hero in your organization, I challenge you right here to become a hero for growth. Who knows… you may change your culture just by your leadership, and your example.