Reinventing the CEOs: From Superheroes to Everyday Men (and Women) Heroes

Do we seriously need more of these?

  • Celebrity syndrome
  • Highest salary and stock options
  • Glamourous Costume & Iconic Branding
  • Short-Term Profits & spectacular “Coups”

From Superheroes to everyday Heroes.

Watch Herminia Ibarra, Professor of Organizational Behavior at Insead, debunk with “finesse”, detailed research and humor the CEO Superhero myth.

Do We Celebrate the wrong CEOs?

“We still flock to the same few big-time celebrity CEOs for our wisdom on leadership and growth. What does that say about us as a business community? Maybe we’re over-valuing things that well-known CEOs do well (getting on magazine covers, talking about their next big moves, explaining short-term results) and over-looking what less headline grabbing but better-performing CEOs do well which is focus on building value long-term. Maybe it’s time to redirect our attention and start celebrating and learning from a different crop of CEOs.”

Read more at the Harvard Business Review Blog: The quiet CEOs, who get the work done, and well.

Who are these quiet CEOs?

They are less charismatic, almost invisible.

What if the time has come to honor and celebrate another kind of leadership?

What if it all started with leading by example, at home, at school, in politics?

Recently, I read in the Harvard Business Review an article about the Five Leadership Lessons from the BP Oil Spill, written by Gill Corkindale.

“Lesson 4: Leaders are there to serve their companies, people and communities.

. As with 9/11, ordinary people have shown remarkable leadership capabilities, volunteering to clean up the oil and help the stricken wildlife, without thought or care for their own health and safety. Unlike the elected leaders, they see the bigger picture and recognise that the environment and the livelihoods of local people are more important than corporate profitability or political manoeuvrings.”

It’s a good reminder that time has come for a more humble, ordinary leadership and for leaders and CEOs to connect with their soul and their heart, at the service of their companies, people and communities, and be at the same time the best-performers.

Is it an utopia?

How can we start this process of transformation? When are we going to stop waiting  for top leaders to “save” us? Could women play a major role in that transformation?

I strongly believe they could, “we” could. This belief is supported by facts and figures.

Here is an extract of a Letter to the Boss, written by Marcia Reynolds,  to be sent by every woman who is willing to advocate the critical contribution that women leaders can make to the workplace and to the world.

You can find a copy of this letter  at

“Have you read the news about the effect that female leaders are having on business and economic success? Studies in the United States, Great Britain, and France have proven that companies with women composing at least one-third of their leadership team make more money. In these countries, the more women on a company’s senior management team, the less its share price fell in 2008 during the economic downturn. In another study that spanned the last nineteen years, Pepperdine University found that the Fortune 500 companies with the best record of promoting women outperformed their competitors by anywhere from 41 to 116 percent. McKinsey also reported data in a global study indicating a significant increase in the financial performance of companies that have at least a third of their senior management team consisting of women than those organizations with few or no women at the top. A report released by Ernst & Young in the World Economic Forum in 2009, Groundbreakers: Using the Strength of Women to Rebuild the Global Economy, shared research that pointed to the need to capitalize on the contributions women make as leaders, entrepreneurs, and employees when moving the world’s businesses and economies forward.

Are the next women CEOs the anti-hero model that we so urgently need?

What are we waiting for?

Become an advocate for engaging and retaining strong and talented women.

““It is in everyone’s best interest to bring qualified women into leadership positions, especially now when fresh perspectives are needed,” said Ilene H. Lang, president and CEO of Catalyst. “What is good for women is good for men, business, and the global economy.” When you help more women climb the corporate ladder, the results will be good not only for your organization but for the world economy as well.     Marcia Reynolds

6 thoughts

  1. Excellent piece, Marion. To offer what I think is a relevant build: whether led by women or men, we will not see the reemergence of excellent corporations until we rethink what businesses are really for. We have too long been seduced by the distorting cult of shareholder value. The first priority of business must be to meet the needs of customers. Companies that do that well will reward their owners and employees. Companies that value producing profits above producing value will inevitably attract leaders who lead in the wrong direction.

    1. Thank you, Tim, I really appreciate this comment from you.
      Are you familiar with the concept of Servant Leadership? Would it be similar to being at the service of the client, serving the customers in priority? I guess there is more than that and such an organizational and cultural shift could only occur with a complex stream of various influences, from the individual to the environment, across values, behaviours set of laws and regulations, across diverse national and organizational cultures.
      What do you think of bringing this shift from a new and growing segment of the workforce the Millennials, and especially women, who are looking even more for corporate integrity, collaboration and relationship building?
      Could they foster an emerging stream of innovation in business ethics, while achieving excellent results?
      If yes, then it should be everybody’ s priority to empower girls and women!
      Thanks again for stimulating conversations.

  2. Marion – Excellent post, as always. You are pushing our thinking in the right direction – in my not so humble opinion. Your post brings to mind that we – in western culture – are caught in the myth of the wished for father who will solve all our problems FOR us. We are therefore willing to invest in the idea that he is a superhero and along with that role comes our willingness to worship his fame with great fortunes. When we realize it is up to us, that we must do the hard work of creating our present, our future, and our children’s future, we will bring our leaders to a more earthly level. And with that we will value women leaders who will help us grow into the persons we can be and not take on the role of Knight in Shining Armor. Thanks for making me think.

  3. Hi Marion, This post makes me think of two things.

    First, I love the notion of the quiet leader, someone who stays under the radar and yet is able to achieve great results and build strong, functional teams. I’m reminded of the Jim Collins book, Good to Great wherein he describes the principal characteristics of a level 5 leader, as one who combines focused will with humility. Like you, I believe that we need more of this and less of the super-hero, rock star kind of leadership that becomes more about the individual and less about anything else.

    Second, Anne’s comment makes me think about the difference between caring and caretaking. There are leaders who take great pride in “taking care of people”. While this can sound rather comforting, it is also often patronizing and discounts the possibility that people would really rather take care of themselves. Caring about people looks a lot different and includes the acknowledgement that every person has the ability and potential to make a contribution that goes beyond the leader’s expectation. The leader’s job then becomes one of facilitation rather than control.

    I think that advancing feminine leadership traits is a very positive step toward achieving a new corporate, perhaps even world, environment.

    Thank you for another thought-provoking post!

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