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Superheroes Are Fun in the Movies But a Myth in the Workplace

The superhero craze endures. Black Panther picked up a gong for best picture at this year’s Screen Actors Guild Awards, and 2019 will see more blockbuster hero movies being produced than ever before. I guess in an era of climate disaster, global conflict and geopolitical turbulence, we are strangely comforted by the notion of an everyday citizen slipping into a super suit and performing super extraordinary things. We give our kids plastic figurines to reassure them that there are forces out there that keep the world safe and that there is a superhero inside all of us.

Related: 8 Superheros You Need at Your Company

For more than 200 years, we have encouraged a cult of superherodom in the workplace. The original 18th century mills and factories had strong patriarchs, and the 19th century promoted an innatist view of great men as captains of industry. The early 20th century raised hierarchical structures and appointed strong charismatic leaders to head them.

Unlike in the movies, the idea of a heroic figure single-handedly saving the day has been debunked. Abrasive leaders such as Uber’s Travis Kalanick, who in the past would have been applauded for strong leadership, are now being exposed as emotional train wrecks — mere mortals with personality disorders. Happily, the workplace is a better place now that the supers have checked themselves in for rehabilitation. The fact is, there is no longer any need for organizational superheroes because the business world has changed considerably since the 1950s. As I discuss in my recent book, with the rise of the digital economy and a more empowered consumer, traditional hierarchies are flattening out. With that comes the need for super leaders to influence, motivate and steer. Today’s business with its 4IR technologies, ecostructures, self-organizing

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