Leader Volume 8, Number 5
Fortgang is author of Take Yourself to the Top: The Secrets of Americaís #1 Career Coach
(Warner, New York, 1998). She
is founder and president of InterCoach, and can be reached by
calling (888) 23-COACH or visiting firstname.lastname@example.org.
Matt was known as
the ďtechno-wonder kidĒ at the Northeast offices of a large
American food company. While
he was in his thirties, his nickname stemmed from his do-it-all
capacity when it came to fixing system glitches or designing
additional Web site materials. Everyone had come to depend on Matt, but he hardly felt
appreciated. What he
did feel was overwhelmed--and constantly.
Matt hired me as
his coach to help him become more organized and effective at work.
It took months to get him out from under a backlog of
projects and disorganization, but what was most clear was that
Matt suffered from ďThe Hero Syndrome.Ē
As soon as I mentioned it, he knew it was true.
He had become indispensable, but he wasnít doing anything
that mattered to him. He
was so busy making everyone else happy he forgot about himself.
He was such the hero that when he asked for a temp to take
some of his overflow, his request was denied.
He always managed things so well they couldnít justify
bringing on someone else.
Matt knew he had
to change the perception of those around him by shedding his hero
cape and trading it in for a legitimate position on the team.
He came out from behind his computer and learned how to
foster relationships with the right people.
He said no to projects that would take him away from his
new goals. He showed those that relied on him how to rely on themselves.
He came up with ideas and shared them freely at meetings.
He saw where the
company could grow, using more technology, and presented the top
From the Syndrome
So what exactly
is The Hero Syndrome? Itís
an unconscious need to be needed, appreciated, or valued that
disguises itself as a good thing but threatens to destroy you.
need will get met when you say yes and overpromise what you can
deliver in order to be liked, to please others, or to avoid the
perceived consequences of saying no.
The workplace is
not the only place where it surfaces.
Mothers and community volunteers are also highly
How do you know
if you have The Hero Syndrome?
If you feel like you never have enough time to complete
your work or always have a backlog of projects, watch out.
If youíre always the one called on in a pinch, the one to
start early or stay late, or the one
perfectly normal to gain recognition and satisfaction from doing
some of these things, but when the joy of the recognition quickly
fades into resentment, stress, or overwhelm, sorry.
Youíve become the hero--and at a great cost.
What can you do
if you, or someone you know, suffers from The Hero Syndrome? You have to learn how to say no and mean it. It sounds easy
enough, but it takes great discipline to learn how to put yourself
first at the risk of disappointing others.
Practice by taking small steps.
Say no to things you clearly dislike doing, like being the
one who always loads the office copier with paper when itís out
or taking out the trash at home.
When no one protests, youíll start seeing how fun this
will be! Then build
up to saying no to something on which you fear the consequences,
like weekly dinners at your in-laws or constant business travel.
Once you see that the world will go on without these
things, youíll experience a tremendous freedom.
Ah, but this
newfound freedom may also present a dilemma.
What is it, and what can you do about it? If you suffer from The Hero Syndrome, youíve been so
worried about doing what you had to do to keep up with your
obligations, you are probably out of touch with what you want and
may find having freedom as overwhelming as being the hero.
Try this exercise (even if youíre not a hero, youíll
benefit from it): Take
a whole day in which you make a point of having absolutely no
plans or obligations. Call
it a (your name here) day. From
the moment you get up until the minute you go to bed, do only what
you want to do--no
musts, shoulds, coulds, have tos, or ought tos, just wants.
Rediscover who you are and what you like and want on this
day, and start using that
The key to
turning around The Hero Syndrome is understanding its source.
hero is driven by the need for approval, recognition, and being
wanted and valued. The
need is met briefly by the ďhighĒ of being asked to do
something, but it is exactly this short-lived high that makes it an addictive cycle.
In order to get it met, you have to keep
The bottom line
is that you are no hero if you steal from yourself to give to
everyone else. A hero
does not get his strength by doing good deeds, but by the fact
that because he has great strength he is able to lend a hand to
those in need. So
fill your cup and then give some away.
Weíll all be better for it, and then we can thank you,
You Suffering From The Hero Syndrome?
statements below that are true for you.
Be brutally honest. If
an item causes a strong reaction because you donít want it to be
true, you can bet itís true for you.
1. _____ Iím
often the one on whom people depend in a pinch.
2. _____ Iím
someone whom several people trust with private information.
Iím often overwhelmed by the obligations I have to meet
because of a promise Iíve made to others.
Itís important for me to feel needed.
I get great satisfaction from knowing that Iím the only
one who can solve a specific problem.
Itís hard for me to delegate tasks.
I have several friends or colleagues who only call on me
when they need something.
I usually volunteer for a task or project.
Itís difficult for me to receive praise even when I
I want to feel calm and in control more often.
Itís hard for me to end each day with a sense of
accomplishment because thereís always so much more to do.
Iím the first one to begin my day at work or at home and
the last one to call it quits.
I catch myself complaining about the same problems over and
14. _____ I often
count on adrenaline to get through the day.
Iím not compensated with money, rewards, or recognition
for the extra things I take on.
To score, give
yourself one point for each statement you marked true.
You set your limits and honor your own priorities and
3-5 You are predisposed to The
Hero Syndrome. Work
to keep things in check now so that you donít pay the price
6-10 You make life harder than it needs to
be. Start setting
boundaries and giving back responsibility to others.
11-15 Youíre suffering from The Hero Syndrome.
Without a doubt, youíre exhausted and have little room to
enjoy work or life. Take
immediate and radical action to reverse this condition.