Anyone can be a hero for a day.
An above-and-beyond gesture. An extra dose of good-will. Being in the right place at the right time.
Anyone can have a day like that, do something awesome, and be a hero for a day or two.
True heroes walk the walk, even when it's difficult. They do the right thing when there's NOT a profit to be made. Sometimes, they do the right thing when the wrong thing appears to be far more profitable in the moment.
They're concerned about eternity, not about right now.
When I say "eternity," I'm not necessarily talking "heaven or hell", religion, or anything of that sort.
I'm talking about being able to wake up each morning, look yourself in the eye, and know that you've made the most of yesterday, with a commitment to doing your darnedest to make today even better.
Action heroes get banged up, scratched and dented, and take a few beatings from time to time. They get a little dirty, bloodied up, and still they rise, because they know it's not about the short-term gain, it's about the end game.
Who's going to be at your funeral? What are they going to say about you? How will you be remembered? Will you be remembered at all?
Sarah Robinson once wrote about what I call the "Hero of Now," the hero of right this moment. The flash in the pan that looks good on paper, seems to be on a hot streak, or appears to have some of the success you desire. This "flash in the pan" can be pretty easy on the eyes. In fact, sometimes we get mesmerized and then we're stunned when that flash turns out to be of little substance, or simply doesn't have the long-term value that makes them a true hero.
I've been there at least eleventy-jillion times in my own life and career (give or take a few jillion). You see someone that's doing their thing and it's hard NOT to notice. In fact, our brains are hard-wired to pay attention to something in which we're interested. The Reticular Activating System (RAS) in your brain is what causes you to notice every silver Jeep Liberty on the road after you decide that's the kind of car you want to buy next... or ignore the voice of every other screaming kid at the McDonald's playland except yours.
Here's an excerpt from what Sarah noted:
I thought part of a leader’s job was to search for unnoticed diamonds in the rough and start to polish them. I thought true leaders never, ever forgot that they were once unnoticed and that someone reached out to help them become who they are.
Apparently I was wrong.
When I see “leaders” huddled together in a self-congratulatory group (I’ve even heard of an event where the leaders sit in a roped off area, inaccessible to the “common” attendees), it makes me question any aspiration I might have to someday be among them.
I know not all experts and leaders are like this and that gives me the hope I need to keep going.
Speaking as the kid in high school that was the music geek with TWO 6th hour classes my senior year, I know the uncool factor, and wore it well for a while.
Just like in high school, those would-be heroes are quite often real-life zeros once the playing field is leveled.
I can't tell you how many kids from my past - that thought I was uncool, unworthy, un____, now approach me with some kind of "wow! Look at you!" amazement.
They know I've "arrived" in a way they never did. But I'm still striving, and they're stuck wearing the blue apron at the local big box store.
So too are many of those internet flashes in the pan that were once riding high now facing their own issues: health issues, family troubles, bankruptcies, divorces, lawsuits, and other not so pretty consequences of doing their thing for momentary success, instead of building for the long term.
People talk. Your audience sees you even if they don't always say so. Today's hero, if they continue to demonstrate heroic qualities, will continue to be a hero decades from now. If today's hero runs off at the mouth and ignores the music geeks too often, they end up fat, balding, and with no prospects...
Not that I speak from experience or anything (hee hee).
Think about music: Billy Joel is a legend. Starland Vocal Band? Not so much. Their one hit, "Afternoon Delight," was the biggest-selling single of 1976. They even won a Grammy, but by 1981, they had called it quits.
Do you want to be a one-hit wonder or a lifetime achievement award winner? Both of them may win a Grammy, but who will be remembered for their enduring contribution?
It's hard to ignore a flash in the pan... until the Hope Diamond comes along. (Tweet This)
When you look at your business, your life, are you building something that lasts? Are you a true hero to the folks you serve, the colleagues that seek you out? Are you "The Hope Diamond" of your industry, or just another flash in the pan?
Sometimes it's hard to know for sure. We've all watched someone skyrocket to the top of their industry, stay there for a few years, and then get "shot down" by some kind of incident, controversy, or some other bad PR issue.
They stand the test of time - despite their shortcomings. True business heroes are around for decades or centuries, not months or years. True business heroes continue to learn and grow, develop their network, and rarely rest on their laurels.
True heroes adapt, are agile, and realize that getting beat up is part of standing up for what's right. Just because a company is making billions today doesn't mean it has the wherewithal to be in a future edition of "Built to Last". There are plenty of companies (and people) that started with a future just as bright as Facebook, and ended up extinct.
What makes a true hero? Who are your heroes in life and business? Is there a secret ingredient? I'm guessing you have some thoughts about it. Share them in the comments, and let's start a conversation!
[AUTHOR'S NOTE: This article originally appeared one of my old blogs in March, 2011. I revised it for re-publication here, since I felt it deserved a little resurrection.]