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The Trouble with Workplace Heroes

Tuesday, July 5, 2011 by Slaughter Development

Local entrepreneur Jeb Banner recently blogged about Herculean efforts at work. His message: beware the heroic worker.

In the blog post, Banner writes:

The heroic worker is the one who comes to the rescue when things fall apart, working 20 hour days if needed to patch together a project. They usually wear several hats, sometimes a few at once. I used to admire these heroic workers, standing in awe of their accomplishments. No more.

So what’s wrong with a hard working employee that can leap tall buildings in a single bound? Isn’t that a good thing?

Having a heroic worker around can seem like a good thing but really it’s more like business heroin. The company gets hooked and keeps going back to the heroic worker to bail them out without addressing the underlying issues.

Banner is absolutely correct. It’s easy to adore people who can achieve amazing feats, but it’s more important to ask why we need flashes of superhuman effort in the first place.

The post goes on to list ways to spot workplace heroes, which include:

  • They brag of their hard work, lack of sleep and general suffering.
  • They keep several key areas of the business in lockdown, unwilling to share their “secrets” with others
  • They regularly send emails late at night reminding everyone else that they are still working.
  • They sincerely believe that the company would go out of business without them.
  • They rarely take real vacations.

All of these issues are near to our hearts here at Slaughter Development. We’ve blogged extensively about how not to view job security. We’ve talked about the importance of balancing work and life as well as the notion of efficient vacations. A great employee is not an irreplaceable superhero. Instead, fantastic workers are those that show up and make consistent, meaningful, independent progress every day.

Jeb Banner wraps up his post with an intriguing comment:

In a healthy company with an effective system everyone can be replaced. I’ve learned that myself, the hard way.

This sentiment may be the hardest to swallow. It’s true that great organizations have great systems. Companies should be able to survive the loss of individual stakeholders. That doesn’t mean you should expect to lose your job. Instead, you should focus on being consistently valuable, not inconsistently heroic. The tortoise, not the hare, always wins the race.

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Like this post? Here are some related entries from The Methodology Blog you might enjoy:

Remote Work Week: Qualifications - Today’s issue of Remote Work Week discusses who in your organization is best suited for telecommuting. Read on »
Workplace Productivity and Motivation - Rewards and punishments are such an integral part of organizations it’s hard to imagine doing anything else. Yet a new video reminds us that these are the least effective ways to motivate anyone.
Read on »
Help! I’m Productive! - To the majority of us, being productive in the office is a great thing. Yet, for one individual, consistently accomplishing her work is a big problem. Read on »

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One Response to “The Trouble with Workplace Heroes”

  1. Jeb Says:

    thanks! I appreciate the shout out and expansion on my original post. I know this is stuff you live and breathe so it means a lot to get your positive feedback! Jeb

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