3 Keys to Being a Hero in the Workplace

3 Keys to Being a Hero in the Workplace

By Brenda Corbett, Sherpa Coaching


 An Italian cruise ships runs up on a reef. Heavy damage. People missing. People dead.

There is a leadership story behind the headlines, one I’d like to share with you.

Two men in charge. The two men handle this situation in completely different ways. 

Italy has a new hero and a new villain.


The hero is Coast Guard Captain Gregorio De Falco.  De Falco is a quiet guy who doesn’t like confrontation.  He doesn’t have ‘rock star’ good looks. He does have character.  When he noticed the captain leaving on a lifeboat, he stopped him and turned him back.

The villain is good-looking, he’s confident and he’s quite likable. He is also in jail. He will be for a long time. Captain Francesco Schettino caused the disaster when he turned off the ‘auto-pilot’ on a huge passenger ship and cruised too close to shore, showing off for a colleague. Later, he jumped ship, in violation of every captain’s code of ethics.

Handling an emergency. It’s a true test of leadership.  What would you do?  Who would you be?  The hero, stepping up to confront a problem, or the debonair captain hiding under the blanket, escaping the scene in a lifeboat?

How often do you have an opportunity, in the working world, to be a villain or a hero?  So often, I can’t even tell you.

Your people need to know you will be there when they need you.  To be there, to step up, to be the hero, you must understand three things:

  • People don’t have to think like you do to be successful.
  • People have to know you have their backs.
  • People understand that your words are truth.


People don’t have to think like you do to be successful.

I wrote about the cruise ship captain, in a post about heroes and villains.  I promised to share three ways in which you can be a hero. Here’s the first one. It’s a way you have to look at life in order to be a great leader.  Have you ever felt like this?

  • ‘Why can’t everyone just think the way I do?’ 
  • ‘I have the answers to these issues. I know exactly what would be best.’
  • ‘We could do so much more if they were more like me.’

Time after time, I run into leaders that really and truly believe that these statements make sense.

Here is the real truth, friends: You are the only ‘you’ on the planet.  There is no one in the world that thinks exactly the way you do.  I personally would like you to revel in that.  I want you to celebrate the fact that there is only one you.

This means, of course, that no one can possibly think like you.  I really don’t care how much you want them to think like you do.  They don’t and they won’t.

Knowing this truth, how can you move forward as a leader?  Seems too simple, but . . .   I recommend asking questions like this:

  • What other ways can we look at this?  What ideas do you have?
  • In looking at this situation, how would you tackle it?  What do you think?
  • What else could we do?  What are the pros and cons of what I just said?

Wow, I could go on and on.  You should embrace the truth about your people. Understand that they think differently than you. Use that to benefit yourself as a leader and your organization.  Trust me, it’s the only way.


People want to know that you have their back.

You saw my post regarding the cruise ship captain, about heroes and villains.  I promised to share three ways in which you can be a hero. Here’s the second one. It’s something great leaders do. Good friends do it, as well.

To ‘have someone’s back’ means to protect, to support or to defend them.

  • If I asked the people you work with whether you have their backs, what would they say?
  • If I asked whether you would ‘take a bullet’ for them, would ‘yes‘ be their answer?
  • If you had to support one of your people in front of your boss, would you?

The only way to make sure you have your people’s backs? Ask them.  You could tell me a million times how much you would take a bullet for your team. Talk is cheap, my friend.  What do they say?  If I asked them, would they say you watch their backs?  Do they think you take care of them?

Do you stand tall no matter what happens with your people?  Do you support them even if they make a mistake? When the ship is sinking, do they know you will stand by them, and keep things under control?

‘Having their backs’ means supporting them, no matter what.  People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

That doesn’t mean you support wrongdoing. It does mean to follow an exact format every time someone needs your protection.

  1.  Make sure you have all the information you need to make a good decision.
  2. Ask them how they see it.
  3. Ask them to what degree they were involved in the situation.  Get the truth.
  4. Deal with the situation, not the personalities.  Separate the person from the issue.
  5. Make sure people know how much you care.

Take a good look at yourself, and make sure people see you as an ally, a source of strength, a protector. That’s how you get to be a hero.


People understand that your words are truth.

 So, we have talked about how to be a hero.  This applies to your work, your family, and your friendships. It applies to anyone. First, it was knowing that other people don’t think the way you do. That can be a blessing or a curse. It’s up to you. Second, we talked about ‘having peoples’ back,’ protecting and defending the people who are important to you.

Now, let’s talk about truth. Being truthful is not an event. It’s not a process. It’s a way of life. When you speak truth all the time, you develop a reputation for consistency and fairness.

As an executive coach, I will tell my clients:  in the working world, consistency is next to godliness.  You must be fair and consistent with your people.   You must be consistent in the words you say.  You can’t let one person leave early for a dog obedience class (because you love dogs) and hold the cat-lover back from that emergency trip to the veterinarian (because it’s only a cat).

Consistency means people learn what to expect from you and learn to trust you.

Fairness means you are being reasonable instead of emotional.

To be a hero, you must speak truth.  That doesn’t mean you have to be perfect. It just means that you find truth and then speak it.




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