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Lucy Ball is an executive coach, pairs coach and team coach.

Mar 2018

The super hero leader

The super hero leader:

  • Is a high achiever
  • Takes on large burdens
  • Volunteers to sort impossible problems
  • Works intensely
  • Doesn’t complain
  • Is their own harshest critic
  • Doesn’t ask for help because others don’t do things as well as they do, and getting them up to speed takes too much time
  • See’s their own time as their principle resource – and fills every second of it
  • Relies heavily on a few trusted team members who ‘get’ them and can do things quickly and with little friction
  • Engenders loyalty amongst a tight team
  • Is frustrated by politics and time-consuming consultation
  • Can be very disparaging of those who don’t seem to ‘get it’.


Super hero leadership is a recipe for success in many circumstances. It helps turn businesses around, it is pacy, it delivers. Boards and investors love to have super hero executives on their team – until they suddenly fall out of love with them.

Super hero leadership can have some dark consequences for the leader and for the organisation.

For the leader these include:

  • Stress and burnout
  • Difficulties with politics and cross-functional collaboration
  • Failure to grow talent and support around them.


For the organisation these can include:

  • Errors and secrets that are kept hidden from the super hero
  • Fast-paced change that is not sustainable
  • A failure to adapt when the usual recipe for success isn’t working.


As a coach it’s not easy to support a super hero leader. Super hero leaders don’t believe they need support. They are always OK. When a leader organises themselves around heroism, the idea of dropping that heroism is potentially terrifying.

  • What am I if I’m not a super hero?
  • What if I’m reliant on those around me who I don’t rate or trust?
  • What will I do with myself if I’m not filling every moment of my diary with intense work?

The risk of falling apart feels enormous and coaches and managers of super heroes need to be incredibly respectful of the super hero’s hidden fragility. The alternative to being a super hero in a super hero’s mind is to be broken. The coach’s role is to provide the safety, the chrysalis, the scaffolding and the support for a more sustainable way of operating to emerge. Until it’s safe NOT to do so, a super hero is gonna keep on hero-ing.

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