REALITY #9: Difficult times invariably produce both villains and heroes.

In the best of times, there are villains.  In the vilest of times, there are heroes.  Stress, challenges, and difficulties, often bring out both the best and worst in people.   As is true in literature, the story of humankind has its protagonists and its antagonists. These people have been, currently are, and will always be players with noticeable, palpable, often enduring potential to empower and build up or weaken and tear down.

Since heroes and villains often identify themselves with their words and their actions, there is little excuse for organizational leaders’ failure to address them.  Organizations piloted by leaders who identify and support their protagonists, and recognize and deal with their antagonists generally fare better in difficult times.  In fact, they often survive to come through even stronger.  Those who can’t or won’t identify and deal with their heroes and villains, often don’t survive.  And even if they do, they’re forced to move on noticeably weakened.

Raising legitimate concerns, asking purposeful questions, and appropriately pushing the limits of conventional thought are not villainous.  Ignoring the obvious, promoting unfounded and unrealistic positivity, and engaging in self-serving sycophancy aren’t heroic.  Clearly, the intent, the driving force behind the actions, differentiates an organization’s allies from its enemies.

Volumes have been written about enabling those who purposefully support an organization and diminishing the impact those who willfully seek to weaken it.  There are five essential questions organizational leaders must first answer, before any meaningfully progress can be made toward those ends.

  1. What in our recruitment and pre-employment process attracts would be champions and potential villains?
  2. What is in our onboarding protocols, that identifies both supporters and detractors in our organization?
  3. What in our organization’s culture engenders and empowers heroes, and encourages and accommodates miscreants?
  4. What should we learn from our heroes, and what can our troublemakers teach us?
  5. How can we best encourage organizational heroics, while discouraging roguish distractions?

When the going gets tough, heroes see challenges and rise to meet them; villains see difficulties and fan the embers that enflame them.

2 thoughts on “REALITY #9: Difficult times invariably produce both villains and heroes.

  1. Very thought-provoking post. I wonder if those antagonists identified by the leader see themselves as the antagonists in their own narrative. Recently, a viral internet post took the classic story of the Karate Kid and switched perspectives between the protagonist and antagonist. The post writers claim and provide support that Johnny is the victim of an outsider who showed up to his hometown and stole his girlfriend. As leaders we have to be mindful of not just the meta-narrative of the organization but all the individual short stories that occur in the lives of our employees. Thanks for making me think deeper as a leader on this Friday morning.

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