There Are No Heroes In Business

The greatest leaders realize hero worship has no place in business.  Long before I ever heard of Servant Leadership though, I learned this lesson from my grandfather, a Korean War veteran…

Army Helmet Upside Down

Real Heroes Wear Helmets

I had spent the year interning with a Fortune 500 company and visited my grandfather in Maine for a week before returning to Penn State. My priorities were not right yet. Money, fame and fortune were still the front of my mind. I dreamed of being the next Bill Gates or Donald Trump. So, as we sat on his front porch one cool summer evening, I casually made reference to a prominent executive at my employer as being, “my hero”.

“Nah! That’s no hero, Ben.” My grandfather cut me off, mid-sentence, in a thick Maine accent. He was not angry, but very serious. The conversation quickly turned from a casual chat to a very somber conversation. I had made a mistake and he needed to correct me. “Let me tell you what a real hero is…”

“… it was 1951 and I was in the 4.2 Mortar group of the 45th Division of the Oklahoma National Guard in Korea. We were firing mortars when we came under attack. As we heard the incoming rounds fly past us, I dove to the ground and my helmet went flying off. Let me tell you Ben, you never feel more naked than when you have bullets flying past you and you do not have a helmet on.”

“That’s when Visloski,  who was from Pennsylvania, saw I’d lost my helmet. He jumped on top of my head, shielding it with his body, reached out and pulled my helmet back to me. That is a hero.”

Lesson learned. The whole conversation took about 5 minutes, but I’ve never used the term “hero” in business since. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve referred to anyone, other than my grandfather, as a hero of mine since. So the next time you think anyone in business is your hero, think again. Let’s save that term for the people who really deserve it – our men and woman in military service, policemen and firefighters. All the real heroes are those who risk their lives for us, while the rest of us lead our happily sheltered lives thanks to their efforts and sacrifices.

Question: Who is your real hero? How do you avoid hero-worship in business?

2017-04-29T04:58:00+00:00 Servant Leadership|5 Comments

About the Author:

Ben Lichtenwalner is the founder – the leading blog on servant leadership and top 35 site for any leadership topic, globally. Ben also speaks and consults on IT and management topics for a large variety of clients. Find out more about him at


  1. DGL August 3, 2010 at 8:42 pm - Reply

    Well said, Ben! I hope you forwarded this entry to your grandfather…I'm sure it would mean a lot to him to know that you understood & remembered .

  2. […] my greatest blessings is my freedom. This is a blessing to which I owe a great debt of gratitude to our heroes – the men and women of our armed forces.Contrast our comfort and coziness this season to the […]

  3. Anonymous April 16, 2011 at 2:27 pm - Reply

    I respectfully disagree. There can be different types of heroes. Heroes can be servant leaders in a conscious business culture. Conscience Business Leaders are heroes that saved jobs or create jobs. What would your life be without a job to feed, shelter, support and build a better world for your family and community?

    Military is a necessary evil. Bullets are destructive. They kill fathers, husbands, brothers, and sons. Soldiers are heroes because they are willing to save their comrades, their foxhole buddy lives.

    Yes, Visloski is a hero.

  4. Anonymous October 26, 2011 at 2:05 pm - Reply

    Grand fathers( Older people) are so wise and we should take time to learn from them. Great points here.

  5. buddygonzo June 26, 2014 at 9:28 am - Reply

    That’s exactly right. It’s become that just because somebody is the president of a company they’re a hero or rockstar. I call B.S. on that noise.

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