Anne Nynke Jansma
September 11, 2023
min read
People & Culture

Hero Behaviour, and how it is hurting your organisation

When we think of a hero, it’s often a good thought. We instinctively picture someone in a tight suit with a cape, rescuing someone from a burning building and we feel nothing but love and praise for this hero.., right?

In this article I will introduce you to a different view on the hero, and the hero-behaviour many of us have in us. I will explain why this is harmful for your organisation and why it’s sometimes better to ‘let the fire burn’. Sounds unnatural? Keep reading.

What is a Hero Behaviour?

So to start off, let’s look at the term ‘hero behaviour’.

I don’t exactly know where it first came from, and couldn’t really find a definition online. But here’s a definition I just came up with myself:

Hero Behaviour: behaviour that occurs when someone is acting outside ones accountabilities over and over again, for ‘the greater good’ while actually thereby forsaking their actual appointed responsibilities.

A term you might be familiar with already, while working with Holacracy is the ‘Individual Action’, which basically indicated you are doing something you do not have a role or accountability for. I mean, this can happen sometimes, right? But Individual Actions, should only be one-offs. If an Individual Action happens more than once, this should be processed in governance and the repeating action should be documented as an accountability on a role for example.

Maybe you are like me, and you are just the type of person that likes to solve stuff, and help others by solving problems. Of course you want to help out your colleague by giving him a full tour of your CRM system. Sure you’ll water the plants this week. A colleague having trouble cleaning out the overloaded info inbox? Of course you’ll help out by picking up an issue or two! GREAT COLLEAGUE, right? Nah-ah.

Let’s take the inbox example and explain it a bit further. Imagine I am Bob, and I hold a role that is accountable for emptying the customer support inbox by the end of the day. On Mondays the inbox is often overflowing with emails and I am struggling to get it to zero before the day is over. So, I ask my support colleagues for help, I slack some colleagues if they can each pick up a few support tickets from the inbox, so it’ll be empty by the end of the day. If 2 or 3 people help out, it’ll be done in no time.

Now I as a LeadLink am accountable for allocating resources in my circle. But I am not aware of this problem. All I see at the end of the day, is an empty inbox. I do see that the support team is doing less calls and making less bookings. In this case I’d rather see an inbox with unanswered emails by the end of the day, or be notified by the inbox role that the volume of tickets is too high to handle for one person after the weekend. But when others step outside of their roles to fix someone else’s problem, more problems (less calls, less bookings) are actually created and more confusion is created when trying to find out the root cause of the problem.

Now, this is a simple example of an email inbox, but this happens all over the place, with more complex work as well. My point here is, that sometimes, how awkward it may feel, it is better to let the fire burn, or to at least notify the right person/ role.

In this specific example, it was clearly a resource issue at hand, something a LeadLink can solve by allocating more resources to one specific role. So having 2 people handle the inbox on Monday’s instead of one, and solved.

In other situations, you might be solving problems you are actually not accountable for. And even though you may be praised for wanting to help. You shouldn’t do this continuously if it is not your role. If someone asks you to do it? Point them to the right role. If no role exists? Create one, or add the work you’re continuously doing to an existing role that has a purpose it relates most too. But DO document it somewhere.

hero-behavior holsapirit

Your pathways summed up

Imagine a colleague asks you to water the plants again.

  1. Do you have a role for this?
    Check if this falls under your accountabilities, if it does, then it’s no hero behaviour, but something that can actually be expected from you in your role.
  2. Do you have a role for this, but is it too much for you to do alone?
    Talk to your LeadLink, the LL role is accountable for resource allocation. If a role is too much for one person, a LL can assign multiple people to one role.
  3. Is another role accountable for this?
    Point them to the right role. It is perfectly OK to answer with “not my role”. Nice person as you are, you might say “not my role, but check for a relevant role in the office circle”, thereby pointing them in the right direction rather than giving a stern ‘NO, now leave me alone’ answer :)
  4. Is there no role accountable for this thing you keep doing?
    Bring it to governance! Is it work that belongs in a circle you don’t hold roles in? Options: Notify the LeadLink, Ask for an invite to governance as external non-circle member.

In order to be able to do this I think it is important for an organisation to have a high level of trust. If your culture pushes to much on performance, team members might have a hard time communicating when a role is getting too much. It is important that they do tho, instead of trying to solve things like Bob with the inbox role. It is important to create a place where team members feel safe to fail.

So, to sum up my point. Sure you want to be a nice colleague and help out a teammate every now and then. But don’t do this structurally. If you are just a naturally helpful type, this is harder to get used to. But stop trying to solve things for other people. Sometimes it is better to let others feel the pain a bit, no matter how awkward this makes you feel if you know you can easily solve something. Solving stuff for other people can also mean you rob them of the opportunity to learn or to find a solution themselves.

An example is how I’ve set up a sales team. I was the first Sales Agent and soon got a hiring role to start recruiting and set up a sales team. Every time a new Sales Agent was hired, they were onboarded by a colleague who knew nothing about the sales processes we were using. So in the end I was explaining all the sales related stuff to them.

The onboarding role was not in my circle, and even though I had requested to be assigned to the role, I had not yet been given the role. So one day a new sales agent started, and I did nothing. I prepared nothing, I explained nothing, I let our onboarding role handle the whole thing. Who was all of a sudden confused because they had no knowledge of what had to be done.

Everyone felt this tension so bad, that shortly after I was assigned an onboarding role with a focus on Sales Agents. BOOM. Could I have done more to solve this tension, maybe. But at the same time, I am not accountable for it, and from my roles I should not care about this, the onboarding role should. I stopped doing what I was not accountable for and because this made it so obvious what the tension was, it was solved in no time!

You might argue there are other, or maybe better ways to solve a tension. But my point is just that by trying to solve other people’s problems you create more work for yourself, work that takes time away from the things that you ARE accountable for and the things that others CAN actually expect of you. So be aware of this phenomenon and if you catch yourself in something that looks like hero behaviour, be conscious about it and ask yourself if you are really helping, or potentially harming the bigger picture. Roll up your cape and let people solve their own tensions.

For a better communication in you organisation, do not hesitate to check our solution Holaspirit based on the Holacracy methodology !

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