To Be or Not To Be the Hero

Emre Soyer
3 min readJun 9, 2022

--

12019/Pixabay

The world is dealing with multiple major crises, which are causing daily struggles and uncertainties for all types of organizations. There’s also no shortage of other upcoming potential disasters due to worrying trends like climate change and resource constraints.

Decision strategies that got us here won’t likely be of much help moving forward. In fact, some of these might be the very reason why we are flooded by unexpected shocks and emergencies.

Decision makers will need to become increasingly more effective at prioritizing problems and solving (or better, preventing) them in a timely manner.

These prospective “heroes” will need to acknowledge that not all emergencies are the same.

Two Types of Crises

One type is where there’s a temporary problem that needs a solution. Once the main underlying issue is resolved, the crisis is over. Examples: a conflict in the workplace, a burst tire, appendicitis.

It can pay to be the hero in these instances. One decision maker takes charge in a moment of need and engages the problem in a dedicated way. The storm passes, and the valiant actions are hopefully recognized.

But some crises are not temporary. They contain a multitude of storms that disrupt daily operations and go on for several seasons. It’s not a single issue that needs to be resolved. Multiple systems are failing. COVID-19 is a global example.

Some decision makers may still desire to be the hero in these situations. They may wish to jump in and save the day. But that’s dangerous: They would have to do it day in and day out during changing and uncertain times. Even if the probability of making a big mistake could be small for each decision, the long duration of the crisis would ensure that it eventually happens.

As a result, they may ultimately become a villain, despite their initial intentions.

A Team of Heroes

A useful approach to this second type of crisis would involve building a small decision team of three or four people that would tackle things together, following a protocol that’s based on the organization’s values and objectives.

This strategy has several advantages:

  • Decreases individual anxieties by diffusing responsibilities: A single decision maker is likely to be crushed by constant pressure. Knowing that there are a few others who are lifting the same weight offers a peace of mind that’s necessary for wiser decisions.
  • Reduces mistakes that would occur due to personal biases: A single decision maker can be under the spell of certain illusions due to their personal beliefs and experiences. Others in the team would help mitigate these to improve decisions.
  • Prevents faulty impulsive decisions by slowing down the process: A single decision maker would feel the need to act quickly under distress, without adequately considering the consequences of their actions. The need to consult with the team about crucial decisions further reduces the probability of making mistakes.

A version also published on Psychology Today

--

--

Emre Soyer

behavioral scientist, co-author of The Myth of Experience