Monday, October 26, 2009

Superhero Leadership! Part 2: The Stunning Conclusion!

Welcome back! Last time we explored the idea of whether or not Superman, a person of superhuman abilities who fights evil for the cause of “good” is a leader or not. But Superman is an alien, a being not of this Earth, and almost incomparable to us mere mortals. Batman, however is not. So let’s look at the Caped Crusader a little closer to see if he would constituent a leader, both as a stand-alone entity and when compared to Superman. We’ll then wrap this whole thing with my person opinions on the matter.

So, Batman is a dark brooding billionaire who has turned to doling out his own justice under the cover of night. Zaleznik would probably have a field day when looking at Batman. Zaleznik (1977) would say no one is more “twice-born” and had to struggle through life (at least emotionally), than Bruce Wayne who watched his parents be brutally murdered. This one action led Wayne to eventually take up his mission of exacting revenge on those who break the law. But even further, Zaleznick could check off many of his items from his definition of leadership: Thinks outside the box? Neurotic? (Pro)active? Well, I mean the guy IS dressed up like a bat who beats up bad guys, I think neurotic may even be light in this case. Rich emotional content? Wayne consistent grieves over his parents. Intense one-to-one relationships? Mm, that may be a stretch, but he certainly loves his butler, Alfred.

But what about empathy, one of Zaleznick’s, and many others’ requirement for leadership? I think Choi (2006) would say Superman is pretty empathetic, because Superman usually looks for people in danger, and protects them. But Batman is different here- Batman hunts bad guys. You’ll never see the Caped Crusader running into a burning building, or saving a cat from a tree (however humorous the latter would look), so it’s a different relationship to the world of good and evil. Superman protects, Batman punishes, and therefore I don’t think empathy is here.

Let’s expand on that punishment a little bit. As mentioned in the last article about power, Hughes’ coercive power (1993) is clearly here, given the fear Batman evokes, but Superman has both coercive AND reward power. Batman only uses one. Is that enough for a leader, especially if it’s coercive? This leads us a little bit into a values question. While certainly Batman believes he is a “do-gooder”, it would be easy for someone like Burns (1978) or Heifitz (1998) to perhaps have some pause at calling Batman a leader, due to a nebulous morality surrounding his methods. Batman typically beats his opponents to a pulp, without any regarding to due process. He is judge, jury and executioner all in one. Is this really a leader?

And why does Batman do these things? Is it really for the good of others, or is it for HIS need, a need to battle demons created when he was unable to prevent his parents’ death? Sendjaya (2002) would probably raise an eyebrow at this, claiming that if Batman is viewed as a leader at all, don’t confuse him as a servant-leader, since his actions are not clearly altruistic in nature. Superman, on the other hand, may fall into this category, given there is no real motivation for Superman’s actions other than a choice he is making to use his powers for good. Superman receives no benefit or reward for his deeds, and that sounds pretty altruistic to me.

Batman’s response to these criticisms may cause him to cite a little McGregor (1966), saying that his actions are the result of a situation. The situation in this case is that Batman lives in Gotham, a city filled to the brim with crime, and a corrupt police force unable to do anything about it. He’d claim this is also in-line with Selznick’s (1975) idea that leadership is done to “meet the needs of a social situation”. The people of Gotham have a need for someone to clean up the streets, and Batman is filling that need. Also, Batman also has said (whether he means or not is in question), that he would go away when he is “no longer needed”. Selnick would like this dispensable leadership idea, and he’d also enjoy the fact that Batman has no “given power”.

Finally, just as we asked the question with Superman, we must the same of Batman: who is following him? This comes from the questions of Geneen (1998) and Rost (1991). I’ll answer with my idea about Superman first- the people of Metropolis follow him. They do this by having a fairly universal positive public opinion of him. Superman is beloved and championed. This is similar to how people support those holding public office, or even on a sports team. People may not be able to DIRECTLY “follow”, in the clearest sense of the word but they do they best they can through the power of collective voice.

Batman however isn’t “followed” by the public. He’s not seen as a universal hero. To many, he’s a criminal, just as bad as the ones he punishes. He circumvents the judicial system, and by taking matters into his own hands, he’s a vigilante, not a savior. Cronin (1984) says that leadership is more about means than ends. Batman’s means, however well-intentioned, and despite whatever positive results MAY come from them, are flatly against the law.

So where does this leave us? I’ll keep it simple. I think that Superman is a leader, and Batman is not. Superman exhibits a clear, positive mission, is empathetic, and even has followers. He could even be called an inspirational leader, perhaps. Batman on the other hand, is a deviant. A person who takes matters into their own hands, illegally, however well-intentioned, is not (usually)* leadership. Batman has no followers, has no empathy, and is working to serve really only himself, even if his actions may benefit others. I still like him though ;).

I’ll be anxious to hear your thoughts!

* - I understand that certain times in history people perform actions that are “illegal” (i.e. Gandhi, the Revolutionary War) that DO constitute leadership. There’s just too much to go into with that for this post.