Okay, so of course we don’t (sadly) live in a world full of caped heroes, but for the fun of it, let’s suppose we did. Would we consider them “leaders” by any sort of standard definition or theory? Now of course, superheroes come in all shapes and sizes so I’m going to take two take two iconic superheroes and evaluate them: Superman and Batman. This blog will focus solely on Superman, and in two weeks, in true comic form, you’ll get the stunning conclusion when we look at Batman and compare the two.
Let’s start with the Man of Steel. Well, even his motto: “Standing for truth, justice and the American way!” sounds an awful lot like the transformation leadership that Burns champions when he says it is “more concerned with end values, such as liberty, justice and equality” (1978). Burns also talks deeply about the moral standards of the leader, and many a-times Lux Luthor has cited Superman as his “incorruptible foe”.
Sticking with values, we could then move to Heifitz (1998), who makes a lot of his basis of whether or not a person is a leader based upon whether they are good or evil. Surely, saving people from burning buildings, foiling robberies and rescuing tree-stranded cats are the deeds of a moral person, yes? Well…then there’s a problem. Heifitz doesn’t really subscribe to trait theory, or great man theory. If there ever was a “great man” I’m pretty sure Superman would take the cake- and would Heifitz care that it’s Superman traits, his special abilities to fly and see through walls, which gives him the ability to perform those moral deeds? Does this disqualify him?
But what about those traits, those special gifts? Well, he’s certainly got all kinds power. Hughes (1993) would say he’s got both coercive power and referent power as a result. You could even argue that those powers automatically put Superman in a situation of leadership, due to his ability to act, and is therefore a leader because of it (Stogdill, 1948).
But if Superman is defined as a leader because of these powers, then who are his followers? Geneen (1998) would ask: Who is Superman managing? Rost (1991) would then pipe in: There’s no relationship between followers and Superman, therefore he’s not a leader! It begs the question of can there be true leadership if there aren’t defined followers (especially it’s a bit of a impossibility given the unnatural gap in ability), or even a true goal? To that end Selznick (1975) might claim Superman’s leadership is automatically default because there’s not a clear mission for Superman- he just continually keeps helping people when needed. Are those specific enough “goals”?
There are a lot of questions I’ve asked, and I’m curious for the answers you might have. Like I said, this is Part 1. Part 2 will focus on Batman since he’s a mortal character, and is less “revered” by the public, being often called a vigilante. Til next time!