May 1, 2023

What To Do When You’re No Longer the Hero (Challenge #65)

What To Do When You’re No Longer the Hero (Challenge #65)
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Once upon a time I was the person who would check my email one last time before bed, or come in early on short notice to prep for an event. These days my work is a lot less urgent and a lot less visible to our patrons and faculty. And in my weaker moments, my work feels a little less important too. However, if I’ve learned nothing else in my 5 years of Deaning, I’ve learned that the more hands off and less heroic I am, the better things run in our organization. Today I’ll share how you can manage that transition.

Related Episodes:
How to Be a Powerfully Kind Leader (Challenge #3)
Why Do We Micromanage? (Challenge #33)
How to Delegate--for Real! (Challenge #45)

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This episode was produced byPodcast Boutique.


There’s nothing like pulling up to a stoplight on your drive to work and seeing an email notification pop up from your boss. The light changed, I pulled over once I got through the intersection, and was shocked at what I saw. A last minute issue came up late the previous evening where a local dignitary needed to book a room in the library that morning. However, there was no problem! Another team member happened to be up late the previous night and saw the email, and she alerted the opening staff. It had all been handled when I was asleep, and our library was running like the fine-tuned machine it is. I felt relieved, and proud, but also…a little irrelevant. Once upon a time I was the person who would check my email one last time before bed, or come in early on short notice to prep for an event. These days my work is a lot less urgent and a lot less visible to our patrons and faculty. And in my weaker moments, my work feels a little less important too. However, if I’ve learned nothing else in my 5 years of Deaning, I’ve learned that the more hands off and less heroic I am, the better things run in our organization. And I’ve noticed that this is generally true for all educational leaders--the further you climb up the ladder, the more you need to be ok with no longer being the person who saves the day. Today I’ll show you how to manage that transition.


Welcome to the Kind Leadership Challenge, the podcast that empowers leaders to heal their organizations in ten minutes! I’m Dr. Sarah Clark, founder of the Kind Leadership Guild, where I use my PhD in Higher ed leadership and nearly 2 decades of experience in academic libraries to coach educational leaders to sustainably build a better world. 

Kind Leaders aren’t perfect, which is actually as it should be. In our unique ways, We make tough decisions without becoming jerks. We create impactful and burnout-proof systems for our organizations. And we know that once we stop controlling and start collaborating, even the most ambitious vision can become effortless. Kind Leadership’s pretty simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. So if you’re up for a challenge, stick around as I teach you how to create a resilient, thriving legacy that will strengthen your community long after you’re gone.


Kind Leadership is the art of making decisions that heal your organization so it can build a better world. And one of the most healing decisions a leader can make for their team is to step back wherever and whenever possible. Best case scenario, your team will shine more than you thought possible. And worst case scenario, you will see the areas where your team can improve, so you can coach them toward their highest potential. 

Of course, that all sounds a lot easier than it is in reality. I’ve been practicing the “if in doubt, step back” leadership style at work and at play for almost 4 years now, with overwhelmingly positive results everywhere. But like the surprise non-event I mentioned in the intro, it can sometimes feel a little uncomfortable, a little unproductive, and even a little lonely. That discomfort doesn’t mean recovering rescuers like me should change their leadership style to something that feel better but performs worse. It means we need to use the three skills of kind leadership to move toward a new mindset around accomplishment, a new workflow that allows us to contribute in new, more impactful ways, and attain a new vision of success that doesn’t depend on kudos or adrenaline.

To take a newer and kinder approach to your leadership style, you need to start with your first and most important follower—yourself. To do that, we practice the first of the three skills of kind leadership—growing humanely. What are your feelings and values around rescuing others, and how can you honor what serves you while shifting what doesn’t? For me—I often feel a powerful need to prove my worth by helping to make the world a better place. The reasons why I have that pressure and worry are irrelevant, but they’re a thing, and as I am firmly in my mid-40s,  I’m coming to accept that neurosis probably isn’t going anywhere at this late date. The best thing I can do is acknowledge that feeling, and try to channel it through my core values of working to my full potential while keeping everyone’s workload sustainable for the long term. That means the most powerful decision I can make is to identify the things that ONLY I can do, do them, and then focus on gathering information, building relationships, or taking other actions that will allow me to grow ever more proficient at doing those things, and more confident that my work truly makes a difference.

Once you’ve decided what you need to do to become more of a leader and less of a hero, let’s use the second kind leadership skill of managing effectively to create a workflow that allows you to contribute without running off every 10 minutes to don your cape and tights when a crisis arises. For me, that’s entailed a shift to more big picture projects for my library, my university and my community. As I focus on building connections, watching for threats, and identifying cool opportunities, that keeps me busy AND has the merit of identifying and neutralizing lots of threats before they become a crisis. After all, if you catch problems while they’re small, then everyone gets to spend more time doing their jobs and less time having to save the day.

Of course, that requires a healthy culture in your team, stakeholders and other contacts who keep you up to date (and who you keep in the loop in return), and a community who is empowered to make their corner of the world a better place. And that’s where the third core skill of kind leadership—creating collaboratively--comes in. You know what your vision of leading more and rescuing less looks like. But how does that gel with your team’s wants and your larger organization and community’s needs? By developing a robust team culture, building partnerships of mutual respect with your stakeholders, and learning what your community needs from your organization to fulfill their needs and goals.

So let’s say you’ve done all that. I can guarantee you’ve become a better and kinder leader. Also, paradoxically, in becoming a leader, have become a hero to the one person you do have a responsibility to rescue--yourself. In a world where leadership seems to just teach us how little control we have in life, true heroism lies in building ourselves up so we can be kinder to ourselves, our work, and our world. Growing humanely gives us the confidence we need to make heroic decisions. Managing effectively makes our organizations resilient enough to withstand any surprise attack from the dark powers of budget cuts or outside attacks. And creating collaboratively allows us to assemble our team members, stakeholders, and community into an unstoppable, trusting team that can change the world for the better.  

So now that I’ve given you your pep talk, here’s your challenge: I want you talk to someone who has navigated the transition away from being a hero and toward being a leader, to get some advice on how they’ve done it. If you don’t have anyone like that in your life right now, I’ve got two ideas—use the MCC checklist to have a similar conversation with yourself, or schedule a 30 minute chat with me. You can describe your situation, and I can help you get clear on where you’re being a hero, and together we’ll determine the next right step you can take to spend less time rescuing others, and more time being a hero to yourself.


Thanks as always for listening to the kind leadership challenge. Before you go, here’s a quick way you can spread the word of kind leadership. I’d like you to take a moment to think of one friend or colleague who could most benefit from this week’s challenge. Then, open your app or head over to and share this episode with them—and add a friendly note as well. Never doubt that day by day, you’re building a better world, even if you can't see it yet. So until next time, stay kind now.  

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