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First-Time CEO: it’s time to ditch your leadership heroes.

Sally Henderson is NDA’s monthly columnist discussing the pressures of leadership in our industry. Sally is a High Stakes Change Mentor with over twenty years experience.

Part five of an eight-part leadership series and practical mentoring guide for first-time CEOs.

We all have leadership heroes, people we look up to, admire and, let’s be honest, sometimes envy for their effortless talent and impressive legacy.

Heroes can inspire, teach and guide. However, sometimes they can do us more harm than good.

A leadership no-man’s land

If you focus on casting yourself in the image of your leadership heroes, you will forever be in their shadow. People don’t follow a follower. 

The more you try to be like someone else, the less you will be able to uncover your version of leadership at this new level of seniority, influence and power. The same applies for ‘leadership villains’, those who have had a negative impact on yourself or others. 

Whether you try to be like someone, or not like someone, the limitation remains, you are not focused on how you want to lead, impact and be viewed. 

To help you define and deliver an authentic leadership style, I am going to take you deeper into my Leadership Vision Board tool from The Real Method that I introduced in part four of this series.

  1. If you wish to learn from your heroes but not be in their shadow, collate images  that reflect who they are and which leadership traits you admire.
  1. Take each ‘hero trait’ and replace it with an image, word or reference that is totally unique to you and how you want your leadership to grow.  Once you have completed this, ask yourself which of these traits will support you in delivering your goals?
  2. Now for those leadership villains – collate images that reflect the leadership styles or traits you don’t admire in others. Once this is complete, replace these images with alternatives that reflect the opposite of each negative leadership trait. 
  1. Taking your future LVB that you created in Session Three of this series, add in leadership traits from your heroes that are now personalised and unique to you so you can lead confidently in your own right. 
  1. Use your unique future LVB on a regular basis to motivate, inspire and guide your growth as a CEO, reflect your beliefs, and accelerate the impact you wish to make. 

Have fun ditching your leadership heroes. It takes bravery to step out of the shadows and discover what great CEO leadership looks like to you. 

This process and journey are so much more enjoyable and rewarding when you’re not walking the CEO path alone. Deep change has to start with identifying the inevitable blind-spots and how to successfully address them. Have you got the right mentor, coach or expert supporting you at this critical time in your career, leadership and life?

For the next (sixth) edition in the First-time CEO Leadership series, we will be covering how to “Avoid the sinking sand of role creep”.

If you’ve found this advice useful, please follow me on LinkedIn and share with others who could benefit. 

Sally Henderson is the High-Stakes Leadership Mentor and creator of The Real Method. For over twenty years, Sally has helped c-suite executives in the world’s biggest brands thrive during high-stakes change and leadership transition. To find out how Sally can support you and your senior team please email

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