Heroic and Post-Heroic Approaches to Examining Leadership Dynamics



Leadership is among the most studied disciplines under the broad banner of organizational literature. In most studies, the topic of leadership has been approached from a comparative viewpoint, one which addressed the transformations that have characterized the practice of leadership in organizational contexts. As Alvesson and Spicer (2011) observe, there is an emergent movement towards viewing leadership as a collaborative practice that includes more than one person, as was the case during the early stages of organizational literature on leadership. 

Therefore, this discussion is established on the platform of the outline above, which analyses the transformation from heroic to post-heroic leadership. In detail, this essay analyses the heroic and post-heroic approaches to examining the dynamics of leadership. Using a blend of theoretical perspectives, this paper scrutinizes the perspectives that may enhance the legitimacy of leadership as taken from either heroic or post-heroic approaches. Through an examination of the strengths and weaknesses attached to either approach, the paper will validate the argument by Jackson and Parry (2011), who stated that the content and consequences of modern management practices obligate leaders to adopt new leadership skills that minimize the moral doubts of their legitimacy to guide their entities towards prosperity. 


While observing the relationship between people of different administrative ranks in the organization, Gabriel (1997) noted that many people of the lower ranks in organizations consider the top leaders as supreme. The author goes ahead to narrate how such senses have facilitated the creation of a psychological and physical gulf between the organizational leaders and their followers. This article reflects the observations by Schedlitzki and Edwards (2014), who stated that the relationship between the leaders and followers in organizations has been a determining factor that distinguishes the modern leadership practice from the ancient practices of leadership. 

The heroic approach to leadership dynamics is perhaps the trademark of the gulf between the leaders and their followers. The charisma required of leaders in the heroic leadership practice complements the role played by these leaders, defined by Fletcher (2004) as people who use their influence to determine the direction of the organizations they lead. In the wake of globalization, many organizations have attained international statuses, a factor that has made it difficult for most organizations to have the centralized style of leadership that is a cornerstone of the heroic approach to leadership.

Consequently, heroic leadership began to be replaced gradually by post-heroic leadership. As Fletcher (2004) explains, many entities have embraced post-heroic leadership to an extent that heroic leadership remains less relevant in the modern day organizational context. As Carroll, Ford and Taylor (2015) elucidate, there are several factors that determine the value added by leadership within an organization. While expounding more on this argument, the authors posited that modern day leaders have to demonstrate their ability to blend the qualities of heroic and post-heroic leadership in order to attain a perfect balance that guarantees an additional value to the organization.

While looking at the transformations between the styles of leadership over the last half century, Sharma and Grant (2011) noted that the increase in the financial scandals in different multinational organizations has further casted doubts on the option of giving all leadership powers to one charismatic individual, which is a preserve of the heroic approach to leadership. Tourish (2005) embarked on a study to analyse the role of the organizational leaders in the collapse of Enron, which the author termed as one of the most catastrophic business failures in modern history.

According to the findings of Tourish (2005), Enron was deeply entangled in a leadership crisis. This crisis was engineered by the belief that the organization banked in its charismatic leadership. As Spector (2014) observes, charismatic leadership is one of the foundations of the heroic approach to leadership dynamics. The report by Tourish (2005) goes further to link the growth of cults in the organization to the charismatic leadership, arguing that the loyalty that some followers granted the charismatic leaders blinded their view of the ills that these leaders perpetrated. 

However, charisma is not a quality of leadership that perpetuates negativity and impunity, as Sharma and Grant (2011) explain. In a study to explore the role of charismatic leadership in organizations, the authors exemplified Apple’s Steve Jobs role in the organization during the establishment of the organization, and through the challenging experiences that the organization endured. The authors are quick to point out that leadership plays an integral role in facilitating cooperate scandals, just as much as it contributes to the declining profits recorded by companies. This argument introduces a new perspective of charismatic leadership, which is charismatic identity. Based on the definition by Carroll, Ford and Taylor (2015), the charisma of a leader can be used to harness organizational productivity or to perpetuate organizational failure, depending on the approach to leadership adopted by the organization. 

Unilateral decision making is among the characteristics of the heroic approach to leadership. This is in sharp contrast to the post-heroic leaders, who are defined by their ability to accommodate diverse opinions towards finding the most appropriate decision or solution to organizational problems. This perspective brings forth the follower and follower-centred approaches to leadership, and the roles that they play in determining the direction of an organization.

The relationship between the leader and followers triggered Bligh to evaluate the impact that the relationship has on the organization. As Jackson and Parry (2011) assert, both the heroic and post-heroic approaches to leadership dynamics are characterized by the decision-making authority given to the leaders. The main differentiating factor, however, is the style of decision making adopted by either type of leaders. Whereas the heroic leadership is autocratic, the post-heroic leadership is participative. 

The follower- centred approach, as Bligh (2011) explains, is a shift from the autocracy that characterizes the leader-centred approach to organizational leadership. The follower-centred approach, which is adopted widely by the post-heroic leaders, directs more attention to the followers in the processes of decision making, as opposed to the heroic construct of leader-centred approach, which directs the attention to the leader. Whereas the leader-centred approach to leadership reduces the decision-making bureaucracy, it is mired by inaccurate decisions that are based on individual understanding of the situation. 

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On the other hand, the follower-centred approach increases the time spent in decision-making, a factor that makes it less suitable for flexible organizations that require flexible decision-making processes. Despite this, the follower-centred approach, as explained by Bligh (2011), enables the organization to make better decisions, and has since been found to promote organizational harmony, according to Schedlitzki and Edwards (2014).

The question of whether leaders are born or created often dominates the debate on the nature and structure of transformational leadership. Despite the shift of focus from the leader to the style of leadership in post-heroic approach to leadership dynamics, Alvesson and Spicer (2011) explain that the qualities of leadership must be evident in a leader, whether in the heroic or post-heroic perspectives. One of the factors that Sharma and Grant (2011) highlighted as critical in determining the difference between these two generations of leaders is their use of influence to persuade.

The heroic leader is defined more by their courage, risk-averse nature and superiority in knowledge. In non-positional leadership, the heroic approach to leadership can be beneficial to an organization, as it can challenge the status quo that contributes to organizational inefficiency. However, heroic leadership only challenges the ideas to which the leader does not conform, and the practices that do not benefit the leader. In most instances, heroic leadership may not challenge the status quo if the leader benefits from the proceeds of poor decision-making.

However, post-heroic leadership draws sharp contrasts to the heroic approach to non-positional leadership. One leadership characteristic shared by the leaders in both heroic and post-heroic perspectives of leadership is the ability to challenge the status quo. The difference in this shared ability lies in the ambition of the leader. Post-heroic leaders promote change in direction from the challenges presented by organizational ineffectiveness.

Besides, these leaders use their influence to harness the support of their followers in making decisions that affect the entire organization, not according to the desires of the leader. Post-heroic leadership promotes a better way of implementing the proposals of the organization when compared to the heroic approach. The position of authority of post-heroic approach to leadership is minimized, a factor that obligates leaders to rely on their power to influence in making decisions. 

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Having concluded that leaders are nurtured rather than born, Spector (2014) attempted to analyze the origins of transformational leadership. In this article, the author provided a list of differences between leaders and managers, stating that the latter reinforce orders while the former generate relative disorder. This argument presents a new perspective of analysing the style of leadership, using the Burns hypothesis that designates leadership as either transformational or transactional. 

The transactional leadership refers to the exchanges between the followers and the leader. O the other hand, transformational leadership focuses on the elevation and simulation that observes the morality of leaders as well as the ability of the followers to be enshrined in the decision making process. 

Transactional and transformational leadership are a core determinant of the leadership styles that define heroic and post-heroic approaches to leadership. Today, many leaders are criticized based on their inability to deliver on what they promise. As Fletcher (2004) elucidates, the complexities in the rate of change have triggered an astronomical growth in the amount of expectations that followers have of their leaders. 

Therefore, transactional leadership contributes to the anxieties that characterize organizations with heroic leaders, who depend on their charisma and knowledge to implement change within their organizations. In as much as leaders have to demonstrate their ability to work hard to attain their promises, they should not create a sense of fear among their followers, as this contributes to the perception among followers of becoming obsolete, which can lead to resistance.

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The concept of resistance is the main construct that Neumann (1995) used in developing the study to investigate the effects of cultural, cognitive and contextual changes in organizations. The author noted numerous changes in the culture of leadership adopted by different organization, hence mapping these changes to the style of leadership that best suits the organization undergoing similar transformations. The shift from transactional to transformational leadership has seen the followers assume more relevance in the decisions making process. In addition, this has heightened the internal competition for leadership, an experience that was never witnessed in the heroic leadership system.

Collinson (2003) observed a trend in which many workplaces are increasingly defined by a growing interest in subjects and selves. The author explained that the changing organizational cultures had made it possible for people to openly compete to fulfil their interests, and those of their subjects. This observation led the author into establishing the concept of insecurity in the workplace, which largely reflects the power relations between people of different administrative authority. Along the argument, the concept of resistance to change is introduced.

Change in the modern day organizational context is normal and expected. However, the ways in which the leaders handle the resistance to change is dependent on the heroic or post-heroic approach to leadership that defines these organizations. Heroic leadership does not provide a criterion for handling resistance, as it proposes the elimination of the agents of resistance to change from the organization. However, as Burch, Humphrey and Batchelor (2013) write, emotional intelligence is a preserve of leaders in the post-heroic leadership generation. Emotional intelligence enables the leaders to handle resistance to change, as well as harness the egos of different people in the workforce towards attaining better outcomes for the organization. 


Ideally, the increasing recognition in the public realm of organizations, corporations and states as entities led by several people instead of a single charismatic person depicts the changes that have characterized the shift from heroic to post-heroic leadership. As has been illustrated in this essay, organizational leadership is as an exhaustive and complex job that demands much more than what can be provided effectively by a single person. Consequently, the strengths and weaknesses of both heroic and post-heroic approaches to leadership dynamics have been examined in earnest through the discussion in this paper. In conclusion, the content and consequences of modern management practices obligate leaders to adopt new leadership skills that minimize the moral doubts of their legitimacy to guide their entities towards prosperity.

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  1. Alvesson, M. and Spicer, A. (2011). Metaphors We Lead By: Understanding Leadership in the Real World.. 1st ed. London: Routledge.
  2. Bligh, M. (2011). Followership and Follower-centred approaches. In: A. Bryman, D. Collinson, K. Grint, B. Jackson and M. Uhl-Bien, ed., The Sage Handbook of Leadership., 1st ed. London: SAGE, pp.425-436.
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  8. Jackson, B. and Parry, K. (2011). A very short, fairly interesting and reasonably cheap book about studying leadership. 2nd ed. Los Angeles: SAGE.
  9. Neumann, A. (1995). Context, Cognition, and Culture: A Case Analysis of Collegiate Leadership and Cultural Change. American Educational Research Journal, 32(2), p.251.
  10. Schedlitzki, D. and Edwards, G. (2014). Studying leadership. 1st ed. London: SAGE.
  11. Sharma, A. and Grant, D. (2011). Narrative, drama and charismatic leadership: The case of Apple’s Steve Jobs. Leadership, 7(1), pp.3-26.
  12. Spector, B. (2014). Flawed from the “Get-Go”: Lee Iacocca and the origins of transformational leadership. Leadership, 10(3), pp.361-379.
  13. Tourish, D. (2005). Charismatic Leadership and Corporate Cultism at Enron: The Elimination of Dissent, the Promotion of Conformity and Organizational Collapse. Leadership, 1(4), pp.455-480.
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