Organizational Heroes

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Who are our organizational heroes? What makes an organizational hero? And why do we need heroes in the organization? We attempted to find the answers from a group of middle-level executives in Hong Kong. They were asked to identify critical incidents showing behaviors of their bosses, peers, or ordinary employees who have acted in ways perceived as being "heroic." The respondents represent a broad sample of companies in Hong Kong. They were asked to explain why they had considered these people as organizational heroes and describe the situations or conditions when these individuals had behaved heroically. Critical incidents were gathered using a story-telling method. Heroes were first broadly defined as individuals whose actions benefited other organizational members and the organization. A significant portion of the respondents selected immediate superiors as heroes. Fifty critical incidents were examined for the study and an analysis of these incidents yielded six themes or main categories of heroic behaviors. Three themes stood out: Being an effective leader who empowered and motivated their followers; effectively playing the role of change agent; and meeting customers' needs effectively. These findings reveal what middle-level executives perceive as important behaviors and attitudes of those who they respect and value in their organizations. They have important implications for organizations in helping their executives develop their careers, leadership and managerial capabilities.


Communities all over the world have revered and celebrated people who do heroic deeds. Since 1904, the Carnegie Hero Fund in the United States has awarded medals to persons who have risked their lives saving others . Each year, the Hong Kong Police Force gives the Good Citizens Awards to individuals who helped the police in the fight against crime. These awardees have shown exceptional bravery, initiative and resourcefulness in preventing or detecting crimes or apprehending the culprits. Firefighters and police who lost their lives in the line of duty are honored with a hero's burial. Many heroes have also emerged on the battlefield. On Veteran's Day, survivors gather and commemorate those moments and persons who saved them from death or injury. Who are our heroes? What is meant by heroic behavior? Why do we need heroes? These questions have fueled the search for people who do great deeds under circumstances when few will act. It is clear that heroes have an important role in society. Peter Gibbon succinctly explained why we need heroes :

"Hero is the name given to extraordinary individuals who embody qualities a society finds most admirable. Such people show us the way, energize us, and keep us from the darkness. They remind us of how much more we could do, and of how much better we could be. They instruct us in greatness".

The search for heroes also unleashed an outpouring of public opinion that ordinary people help others on a much less grand scale but their actions bring immediate relief and enduring benefits to the recipients. In the book "Signs of Hope: In Praise of Ordinary Heroes", Wilson and Ridley presented 34 stories about individuals who in their own capacity try to change the world for the better . These "unsung" heroes included teachers and parents who taught their charges how to live worthy lives and set them on the right path to personal success as adults.

Industrial organizations, too, search for their own heroes. The Heroes of Chemistry Program gives recognition to scientists whose work resulted in the successful commercialization of a technological product. The definition of heroism has been stretched to included "techno-savvy and well-educated entrepreneurs" who dare to risk all to start their own Internet ventures in China . Organizations are...
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