Business Teams Do Not Need Heroes

By Mark Samuel

When Michael Jordan first joined the Bulls, he was the star of the team. He was excellent at his craft and they won more games because of it. But they never won the NBA championship. That all changed when Phil Jackson became the coach and stopped centering plays around Michael. He worked with the players as a unified team, rather than letting the best player on the team be the hero. The Chicago Bulls went on to win the NBA Championship three years in a row and six times altogether. There’s a valuable work lesson here for other organizations and leaders: Heroes make bad team players.

The hero is the person who wants to be right, who wants to save the day, who wants all the good credit and none of the bad. While heroes might seem shiny and cool, they’re actually an inhibition to achieving business results and prevent the development of other team members to become effective leaders. Why?

When heroes fall, it’s a long way down.

The hardest thing about being a hero is having to maintain your heroic image. But an important part of being on a business team is having the opportunity to fail. This is key, because, without failure, you can’t learn, and while you might do great for a while getting win after win without having to practice adjustment and learning, you’ll be in a worse position when things do actually go wrong — and they will. In business, things are always changing, growing and shifting, and being able to pivot and adapt is incredibly important.

Heroes don’t like to be wrong.

When someone plays the hero, their image is based on being great, and this includes being right. People who need to be right tend to ignore opposing viewpoints, resist learning new perspectives and ignore reality in favor of their opinion. This is extremely detrimental to a team, which needs to constantly be responding to real-life change and feedback. This can bottleneck team execution by causing arguments, or if everyone goes with the hero’s opinion, the whole team could miss out on better, more creative solutions.

Heroes make it all about them.

Heroes need to be the center of attention. They need to be the one who saves the team from failure, who thought of the best idea or who people turn to for all the answers. A hero centers themselves rather than the objectives of the team. When building a team, it’s important to keep your focus on what you want to achieve. A team’s goals, purpose and desired outcomes are the north star, not a fabulous teammate.

Teamwork makes the dream work.

Business teams get good results when they’re inclusive and consider diverse perspectives that optimize critical thinking, innovation and solving problems collectively to minimize unintended consequences. When one person takes the role of hero on a team, the other team members either favor the hero’s opinions and perspectives or resent them. Either way, it suboptimizes the strengths of other team members and limits the ability of the entire team to effectively make decisions together using their unique skills, experience, history and ways of thinking to drive business outcomes. Diversifying team execution creates better, more creative solutions, reduces points of weakness on the team, prevents breakdown and improves execution.

Article first published as a Forbes Coaches Council Post.