Even ordinary workplaces have heroes. They may not wear capes or fight crime, but they help people all the same. Whether it’s the accountant making sure everyone is paid or the electrician keeping the lights on, everyone at work benefits from each other in an invisible but harmonious way.
But then again, some heroes may perceive themselves to be more heroic than they really are. They take credit for the work of others or fail to accept any of their own flaws.
We’ll explain the hero complex and how it can poison a work environment. You’ll learn whether the Hero Complex is a disorder, how it manifests in a workplace, and what to do when you see it in your team.
What is the Hero Complex?
The Hero Complex, sometimes called the Hero Syndrome or Savior Complex, is when someone strives to be the hero of the situation. No matter the situation or the odds, they want to be the ones that save the day. In some definitions, a person with a hero complex will even create situations that inconvenience or harm others, just so they can take credit for fixing it later.
Is the Hero Complex a mental disorder?
No. While the Hero Complex is mainly a psychological phenomenon, it is not a diagnosable disorder or a clinical term. However, the reported symptoms of the Hero Complex (such as an exaggerated sense of self-worth), is similar to a grandiose delusion, also known as delusions of grandeur. Patients of GD consider themselves famous, wealthy, and powerful, sometimes even referring to themselves in divine terms.
The Hero Syndrome in the Workplace
Many believe that Hero Syndrome is commonly found in people with civil service jobs: police, firemen, and doctors. But the truth is that Hero Syndrome will be found just about anywhere with an office. You may work for them, or they may work for you. In fact, you may even have a Hero Complex!
Although it may seem negative, the Hero Complex is not necessarily a cause for concern. Some people simply want more recognition than others, which is common in an individualistic and capitalist culture. However, there are cases when Hero Complex could result in some dangerous situations.
The Dangers of the Hero Complex
Bitter and hostile environments – As you can imagine, having one person consistently boast about their achievements and abilities can grow old pretty quickly. In teams that require communication and teamwork, the one with Hero Complex may annoy and alienate his teammates.
An illusion of productivity – People with hero complexes may have an inflated sense of their heroism. Although they may remember saving the project before a deadline, other team members may remember them as the source for the delays in the first place.
Arrogance clouding judgment – Those concerned about their self-worth may prioritize their ego over their peers. The result- a focus on vanity metrics and titles over actual work. For example, a doctor may be so focused on getting a promotion that they may neglect their managerial duties in the hospital.
How to Identify the Hero Complex
Remember, the Hero Complex is not a diagnosable condition, so there’s no surefire way of knowing whether someone “has” the complex. But there are signs that may suggest a person is more likely to have the Hero Complex.
Showboating. People with Hero Complex like recognition- for their work, their clothes, their lifestyle.
Preaching or saving. Some people call it the Savior Complex because of their need to rescue those in need. They may be too quick to give advice or care more about the photo op at a charity event.
Narcissism. While showing off and helping others isn’t exactly a crime, it becomes questionable when the person is vain or self-centered. Narcissism is one of the telltale signs for a Hero Complex.
How to deal with the hero complex
Once again, not everyone with a hero complex will stir trouble. It’s perfectly acceptable if anybody is self-centered or boastful. Only when it begins to affect the work of the business do you need to consider your options.
If you suspect someone of having a disruptive hero complex, first assess why you came to that conclusion- is their behavior affecting the rest of the team’s mood? Does it result in less than acceptable work?
Talk to the person, or if you have an HR department, have someone mediate the conversation first. Let them know that while strong personalities are welcome, it should never make others feel miserable or less productive.
Learning to assess the skills and personalities of your team members is just one part of leadership. Find out the other skills you need to develop.