The Superhero Leader

Dexter. Danny Ocean. Tony Soprano. Robin Hood. They are likable villains. Why do we like them? They may be funny. Stand up for the underdog. Maybe they are the least bad in a world of bad people. In any case, the key to a likable antihero is that we see their soft side, their care for someone else—  maybe for their team or family— that shows that while their actions are abhorrent, they look out for others. We feel an emotional connection with them because of this kindness. In contrast, the real villain, the one being inflicted by the protagonist’s crimes, is void of kindness, is heartless and self-absorbed.

Clearly a little emotional connection goes a long way. Dalton Kehoe, author of “Mindful Management” would agree. “When you connect to people, you’re making a positive connection that immediately engages the emotional mind,” Kehoe said. “We immediately open up to people who smile at us or politely say hi to us, even in public places where you don’t know anybody. The same thing happens at work, particularly when it happens over and over again.”

By contrast, traditional managerial philosophy has been based on the rational mind, which is found in the prefrontal cortex, right behind the forehead. Leadership assessments measure traits such as assertiveness, risk-taking and logic. Leadership characteristics such as smart, motivational, self-confident are at the forefront of our mind, while characteristics like communicating, understanding people and getting them to work with you are the traits most likely to make a manager great.

This is how our minds work; trust begins as an emotion, not as a rational thought. We respond to the emotional connection. Everyday leaders are superheroes, not antiheroes but they’ll still make mistakes along the way. In those times, the trust and support of colleagues is essential and it all starts with that positive connection.

One way to make an emotional connection with your team is to step out of “work mode” and get a little goofy together with your team. ODA would love to plan a fun event, contact us at 480.788.5093 or

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