From the time I was 5 years old, I wanted to be a superhero. I didn't know the phrase at that time, but the first time I saw Astro Boy on TV in Japan back in 1964, I knew that my goal was to help people in need whenever I could.

Me as a hero

When I moved back to the States in '66, I made it my mission to try to step in to help others when necessary. What's funny is that, until near the end of 8th grade, I was always one of the smaller kids at my age.

That means in general terms, I wasn't always the bravest kid in the world when it came to thinking about how to protect myself. But when it came to others, especially girls, I always stood up for them, not thinking about any risk that could come my way. There was also this mentally challenged kid who everyone else picked on who I befriended and stood up for. We normally played with just each other because other kids were either scared of him or didn't trust him, since he was older. But I didn't care; we had fun, and it was also the right thing to do.

Those were also the times when many cartoons on TV were led by superheroes, and others who made it their responsibility to help others in need. It wasn't only Superman and Batman who did the righteous thing; Popeye also took umbrage when someone needed assistance, and of course we had Casper, Jonny Quest, Scooby Doo and others who did what was necessary to do the right thing when necessary; that's how I was indoctrinated, and I didn't mind it one bit.

I pretty much did that same thing all the way through my college years. I didn't into any situations where it concerned my safety, which I look back on as wondering whether it was self control or a sense of self preservation. Yet, if it involved "my people", I'd be front and center in making sure everyone else was safe and secure. I couldn't let Superman down, could I?

I did that same sort of thing while employed at my first hospital. I stood up for other employees who were scared to stand up for themselves twice. It wasn't physical, but it was vocal, not loud just direct, with detailed proof of instances when the employees, including myself here and there, weren't being treated fairly. I never feared losing my job; it was the right thing to do, the superhero thing to do, the leadership thing to do.

I ended up doing that same thing at every health care position I was in before I became a consultant. None of it was a conscious decision; I did it because it was the right thing to do, the loyal thing to do. When I look back on it, I know that it wasn't always the best thing to do for me personally because one can't always control how someone else will react to your actions, but I like to think it's also the same kind of thing that's made me a pretty good consultant over all these years.

I had a conversation with a long time friend mine on the phone a few days ago. I told him a story I'd never talked with him about before, when there was an employee where I was working who I knew was being physically abused by her husband, and how it took a few other employees to pull me aside and tell me to stay out of it. I didn't want to do it because I thought it was my duty to help, even though I didn't know her all that well. However, I was also in an environment that I didn't know that well, so I backed down. It turned out to be the right decision, and it was something I'd never thought could happen.

What he said threw me off my game a bit; he said "That's what you always did." When I asked him why, he said:

"Dude, you always did that kind of thing. When you saw someone in trouble out at the club, even if you didn't know them, you'd go over and protect them, man or woman. You did it in Denny's a couple of times; you never started any trouble, but you'd say something, sometimes standing up to do it, and trouble stopped. You were even ready to take a bullet for me without thinking about it. My boys would ask 'why's he doing that', and I'd say 'it's what he does; he's the guru'!"

I laughed at that, but when we hung up I thought about it some. In a weird way, I did turn out to be a version of a superhero. I took care of my mother the last 4 years of her life because of her dementia. It wasn't the easiest thing to do, but it was the right thing to do. I was her advocate, protector, and a host of other things. I took the lead when it mattered; isn't that was a superhero, or a leader, would do when the chips are down and danger needs thwarting?

I've often said on this blog that it's a leaders responsibility to help those the leader is responsible for. Sometimes a leader should take responsibility for someone they're not responsible for, but I would never recommend that anyone else should always try to be the hero, especially a superhero. I took some dangerous chances without thinking about it, and in a way I'm lucky to still be alive and uninjured.

I believe Leaders should always try to do the right thing, but I also believe that leaders should take the time to think things through before taking actionable steps, especially if their lives or careers are on the line. You can't take care of anyone else if you don't take care of yourself.

How's that for a leadership lesson? 🙂