What is Leadership? It’s Being A “Present” Hero

“Present heroes” seize opportunities to serve their teams and themselves simultaneously.

Imagine driving through a quiet countryside. You round a curve in a narrow country road and come upon a traffic jam ahead.

Cars in front of you are backed up around the next curve. Cars coming toward you are accelerating up to speed, as if they had stopped for something.

As you approach the center of the jam, you notice cars in both lanes pulling off to get around something in the road. When you get to the center, you see a king-size mattress laying across the road. Apparently, it’s fallen out of a truck.

What do you do?

This true story happened to a professor in Great Britain. And he did as everyone else did: he pulled half-way off the little two-lane road, drove around the mattress, and then back into his lane.

Once back on the road — a frustrating five minutes behind schedule — he accelerated and headed for his office.

As a result of this incident, the professor found himself pondering several questions as he approached his office:

Q1. How many people were put how far behind schedule?

A1: Hundreds of people, thousands of minutes.

Q2. How much collective expense might have been saved if one person cared enough about the group of motorists to stop and move the mattress off the road?

A2: ALL of the loss following such an act.

Q3. What was missing?

A3: A “hero” willing to save everyone a great deal while personally expending very little.

This story, referenced by psychologist John Platt in his work on social traps, is labeled The Theory of the Missing Hero. The “hero” is “missing” because

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2 Responses to What is Leadership? It’s Being A “Present” Hero

  1. Peter Spitz says:

    Thanks for the excellent post, Christopher. I certainly don’t consider myself a “hero”, but when I’m grocery shopping with my wife, and see an item on the floor, I pick it up and put it on the shelf where it belongs, so nobody will kick it and damage it, or have to walk around it. I don’t think it’s such a big deal, and wish other people would do it (and I’m sure some do). Gilda always says “You’re such a nice guy.” Maybe I’m a “hero” too. :-)

    • christopher says:

      Peter, thanks. Of course you don’t think it is such a big deal. No true leader thinks that what they do is a big deal. That’s what makes it worthy.

      You remind me of when I would jog with my friend John Cook in Austin, or go on walks with him when we travel together. Every now and again he would bend over, pick up a piece of trash and carry it until we get to a trash can. I remember feeling ashamed that I that I did not think of doing such a thing. Then I decided the way over my shame is to do the same when I can.

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