The Hero Shadow

The three steps to replacing heroics with genuinely useful decisive action

If you’ve ever done or said anything that you regretted, were ashamed of, or got negative feedback about, then this mini-series might be useful. Look for the shadow tag.

Sometimes we do and say stuff that comes out wrong – but we do it with good intentions. These behaviours are a kind of distortion of our true strengths, hence the term ‘shadow’.

The Hero is a distortion of the true masculine strength of being able to take action, with energy, decisiveness and skill.

You can spot a Hero in action if you see these behaviours:

  • He jumps into action with a reckless disregard for himself and others
  • The task is more important than the people
  • He needs (or possibly even causes) a crisis in order to feel energised
  • He gets way too far out in front, so that other people are unable to keep-up and therefore accidentally creates his own solitude.

I’ve sometimes found the Hero Shadow to be a tough one for men to work on. It’s such an addictive (but temporary) source of energy and purpose. And there are also quite a lot of social expectations for men to behave heroically. We ask them to sacrifice their bodies in war or in dirty and dangerous industrial jobs. We tell them to “suck it up” when it comes to emotional pain or thwarted ambition.

Heroic Leadership in the workplace is what sometimes happens when entrepreneurs are unable to take their business from the thriving start-up phase through to a sustainable company. Because that’s not something one person can usually do by themselves. In larger companies Heroic leaders create burn-out around them and fail to get the boring processes in place so that the organisation can function without them.

There are three steps to replacing heroics with genuinely useful decisive action:

1. Reconnect with the real heartfelt purpose behind why action is even necessary. That way it transparently becomes action for the sake of something worthwhile, not for its own sake

2. Deliberately create the kind of positive solitude that gives a longer-term top-up to energy levels (long, silent bike-rides are my favourite)

3. Unearth the compassionate, nurturing side of the hero; the part that can’t bear to see suffering and wasted opportunity in people, and teach them how to help others help themselves, instead of having to save them all the time.

Unhappy is the land that needs a hero

Bertolt Brecht

Learning Styles and Business

How your learning style reveals the best way to approach your work and career

The pace of competition and innovation in business around the world shows no sign of letting-up. And it’s often a stretch to keep-up with new ideas, find space to adapt to changing markets or even just to make sure we’re up with current best practice! With all that happening, our choices about how much time and money to invest in learning get both more and more important and harder to balance.

It’s also potentially difficult to know what’s going to suit our learning styles and our type of business, so this article is a quick summary that might help.

The way that different people are stimulated to learn and their preferences for applying that learning can have a big impact in business and on the best way that you can approach your work and career. I’ve also put these in the learning styles and business matrix shown above.

People tend to be stimulated to learn by either:

  • a ‘real-world’ Experience; or
  • by having or finding an interesting Idea.

We then respond to that stimulus, to try and make sense of it or take on-board what we’re learning by either:

  • testing it out in some practical way; or
  • reflecting on it (which is a kind of internal ‘testing-out’).

So, for example, the typical hands-on leader of a business is probably someone who prefers to learn from experience and then go and try out what they’ve learnt in some practical way, often by starting and building a business. In contrast, someone whose learning is stimulated by an idea (either their own or someone else’s) and who then wants to test out that idea in a practical way, is likely to be an innovator, coming-up with new solutions to real-life problems (clockwork radio, bag-less vacuum-cleaner…).

It’s also my experience that everybody can use most of these learning styles. Business people do learn from the theory – they just might prefer it to be (a) bite-sized and (b) based on other people’s real-world experience.

Dealing with Overwhelm

The best tip you will ever hear for dealing with feelings of being overwhelmed comes from a swimming survival technique known as “the Dead Man’s Float”…

Sometimes even the most capable people bite-off more than they can chew, or just find themselves somehow off-track and heading towards overwhelm.

In those cases, we can learn a lot from a survival swimming technique known as “the ‘Dead Man’s Float”.

This is a metaphor I use a lot with clients when they say things like:

“Exceptionally for me, I’m not really sure I can cope”

“I don’t know how I’m going to deal with all the business as usual and make the changes I need”

“You know what, I realise for the first time, I’m actually feeling totally overwhelmed!”

If you’ve ever seen a panicked swimmer trying to stay afloat, you’ll know what this is about. In the fear of going under, they will thrash their arms and legs around with tremendous energy. But the problem is, thrashing about is the least-effective way of staying up – and actually creates turbulence that reduces buoyancy.

The Dead Man’s Float is a survival technique used for recovery, basically to stay afloat and rest enough to survive. The swimmer lies face down in water, arms and legs spread for balance, with minimal movement. Using the body’s natural buoyancy to float and lift the head only to breathe then back to floating.

The same technique can be used to deal with feelings of overwhelm at work:

  • stop thrashing around – it creates turbulence and makes things worse
  • stop expending massive amounts of energy from fear of going under – it’s a self-fulfilling, vicious circle
  • start using your natural buoyancy:
    • put your face down and relax your neck
    • be still and calm and rest your body
    • just see if it is possible to stay afloat without really trying

You might be surprised how buoyant you really are.