Protagonist leadership: Merits Demerits & How does it affects organizations growth?



A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves. —Lao Tzu

What is a Protagonist leadership? A protagonist style of leadership is practiced by certain section of people who believe in popularity. This is their natural style of working, thinking and in being. They are the most passionate drivers of initiatives and take a central position in facilitating many activities. In the organization they are the people who take initiatives for change. Like the Hollywood movie hero this guy will come at the last moment to rescue the team from crisis. He will use his skills and powerful influence to change the game. If your project is lacking or running late and there are miserable problems in quality your boss pulls up a protagonist leader from other team and puts him in charge of the project. This is the simplest yet effective action he could take to change the game. As soon as this guy takes over the team leadership the first thing he does is to restructure the team. He gathers the team together in a huddle to realign. He reviews schedule, bottlenecks, customer sentiment, and role of each person in the team. Then he focuses people’s attention on what was their collective commitment to the client and what is each person’s strengths which will help them achieve their target. Now, he doesn’t shout at them, he does not hold them responsible for the delay. He pulls up reports and shows them how if they worked a little over 2 hours extra could collectively achieve the target within next 2 months. He also promises them rewards if they achieve their targets. He makes the arrangement for their home pickup and drop so that they have ease in working odd hours. Soon people start producing more than what they used to. They start loving this guy for leading them and being so humble and approachable. The Management loves him for getting work done. He is a HERO, a PROTAGONIST.

This narration was to explain how protagonist leaders lead from the front. Situation does not make them leader, they create leaders out of any situation. Typically in Hollywood movie you would see a hero going all the way after a terrorist organization to unearth their plan to detonate a nuclear device. He negotiates with detective agencies to give him a free hand to go after bad people. Like the James Bond movie. He is largely successful in cutting through the enemy lines except for one or two instances where he is being betrayed by his own friend or fiancee. Finally he gets every bad guy nailed and stops that last-minute launch of a nuclear torpedo.

Similarly, in real life protagonist leaders lead organizations out of crisis or on the path of growth. Every thriving organization is on a look out for such leaders.

However there is also a flip side to it. Like every good person has some bad qualities, every protagonist has a dark side of being. What is that? Have you ever worked with a protagonist leader? If you have then some of you would know what is the dark side? Now, this dark side is often covered since the obvious benefits of having such a leader out merit the demerits. However in the long run it may totally damage the entire organization and its culture. Organizations start believing that their projects, especially the ones in RED would be bailed out because of change in leadership. Instead of developing a collaboratively reinforcing team they focus on developing merit based people. This deviation creates disharmony at all levels of organization. People view it as only way to be successful. They start focusing on their strengths, their knowledge, their niche and bargain to compensate them for possessing them. Sometimes there are virtual groups formed. A group of people who is pro-protagonist style and other which is made up of shy, slow but steady contributors. This group believes in going step by step, contributing incrementally. They start feeling the pressure of change when a protagonist makes changes in their role. It may impact their self-esteem. Being shy types or the ones who would go by the crowd, they feel left out. This ultimately impacts their performance although their leader does not criticize them for their performance. When the project is over and team appraisals are done, usually these behind the scene contributors are left with average to low grades. Potentially though they could have done much better, they are forced to get in to a shell. So, this style of leadership may take some toll in the long run. Effects of this leadership style are visible after long period. Just like a small blood clot takes time to develop in to a full-blown tumor, the side effects of this style of leadership are visible several years.

All isn’t that bad if there are some changes made within the organization to make it effective and sustainable. Some of these changes are:

1. Collaboration should be the base of every organizational value. Like they say “Results matter but people count”, similarly people’s collective contribution should be seen as key driver of growth.
2. While promoting reward for performance, it is equally important to identify process gaps that create some heroes and some followers.
3. Building trust is vital among people. Trust is built on simply “Doing what is preached and preaching what is done”.
4. If there a protagonist leader in a team, his team evaluation is to be done to identify black holes. Black holes are those gaps in relations that are often overlooked. How to identify them? They are done through better employee connect, one on one’s, round table discussions.
5. In a team if you notice unequal contributions from each team member there is a sniffing problem.
6. Learn to connect the dots. There is always a pattern of working in each team. These patterns are usually influenced by the leader. For e.g. if the manager is sincere, he comes to office on time, he ensures that there is no backlog of tasks; he ensures that his team members get enough rest, his team is usually on time at office.

There could be many more ways to deal with Protagonist style of leadership that can be applied to make it effective.

I leave you with these questions.

What kind of organization you work for? Do you have Protagonist leaders? How do you feel working with them? Do you feel inspired or otherwise? What few quick steps you could take to change that which is not positive? How could you influence those whom you report to, to create a new beginning of mutual growth, trust and peace?

Keep tuned as my next book will cover how one could lead his way even during tough situations to accomplish his goals. Coming soon “The Kaizen Goal”.


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