Some people have a hero within. They have this tremendous ability to mobilize energy, jump in when big issues present, work 24/7 on a peak project, do the extra-ordinary as ordinary, go not just an extra mile or two, but the whole run, show amazing commitment and ‘engagement’ and achieve the unexpected. These are the corporate Hercules, Perseus, Achilles or Odysseus on the payroll. They write the epic narrative of the organization. There is mini-mythology around them. A mythology that may absorb the entire corporate narrative originated in a couple of guys.
I have good news and bad news. The good news is that these ‘heroes’ create a sense of possibilities, they show that making great efforts is something that happens inside the firm, that it’s possible, and they provide some glorious role models that may be very useful during more depressed times in the firm.
The bad news is that if people want to mirror their behavior and convert the company into an epic 24/7, permanent state of busy-ness (as opposed to business) and adopt heroic behavior as a prototype, we may end up with collective high adrenaline which may or may not deliver good outcomes. The reason is here below in this story from the Martial Arts:
A young boy travelled across Japan to study with a famous martial art teacher. The master asked him what he wanted. The young boy told him he wanted to be the finest martial artist in the land and asked how long he had to study. “Ten years at least”, the master answered. “But what if I studied twice as hard as all your other students” the young boy responded. “Twenty years”, the master replied. “Twenty years! What if I practice day and night with all my effort?”. “Thirty years”, was the master’s reply. The boy was thoroughly confused. “How is it that each time I say I will work harder, you tell me that it will take longer?”, the boy asked. The Master replied, “The answer is clear. When one eye is fixed upon your destination, there is only one eye left with which to find the Way”. (Joe Hyams, Zen in the Martial Arts)
Extra-ordinary efforts may not always bring extra-ordinary results. Organizations have a bad habit of rewarding efforts as opposed to rewarding outcomes. As in the apprentice young boy above, extra-ordinary, heroic efforts may confuse the mind, particularly the collective mind. Heroic role modelling on a grand scale is not a good way to run an organization. Or a Martial Arts school, apparently.
I’m not sure if this type of behaviour should be encouraged. II worked at the Bank of England a long time ago (when people still wore bowler hats), and his view was that “your indispensability should be measured by the size of the hole left behind when you take your hand out of a bucket of water”!
Another problem with indispensables is that of succession management – how can a unique entity be replaced?