Beware of the Lone Hero Storyline

What couldn't Rambo do? 

Wire some C4? No problem. Fly a Russian Hind helicopter? Easy. Hide himself in a wall of mud and hang out for a few hours waiting to kill the enemy with his foot-long, saw-toothed knife? All in a day's work. Rambo was a one-man army.

The storyline for the trilogy could go something like this: "One man, outnumbered and against all odds, saves the day."

This "Lone Hero" storyline sounds eerily similar to the idea I had of entrepreneurship a decade ago: "One entrepreneur, with no money and against all odds, bootstraps to build the business of his dreams – and saves the day."

As a founder, this kind of thinking may get you launched, even cash-flowing, but it probably won't get you much further. Here's why:

The Lone Hero storyline creates a temptation that's hard to resist. Because you - the founder - were "The One" who got your idea off the ground, you tend to think you know what's best concerning... everything. 

For instance, when it comes to team building (hiring), you find yourself less interested in assembling a group of people that compliment each other and more interested in finding people who will "do their job." Without knowing it, you end up establishing a fiefdom office environment that kills your culture and limits your growth. I know this because it happened in my first startup.

Instead of adopting the Lone Hero storyline, try this one: "The Heroic Unit"

(Think of movies like, "Hoosiers, Remember the Titans, Oceans 11 or Apollo 13).

In other words, instead of being the hero in your own story, be a hero to your team.

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Here's what that looks like:

I choose to will the good of those I work with

Before stepping foot in the office, ask yourself, "Who can I empower today?" or ask one of your teammates, "What can I do for you today to make your work more effective?"

I choose to do my best work for their sake

The reality is that your survival is not just in your hands but in the cumulative hands of the team. That means that your work affects their outcomes, just as theirs affects yours. Because of this, push yourself to do your best work each day. That way you leave the office with the satisfaction of knowing you gave it all for yourself and for those you work with.

I choose relationships over issues

It's more important living in alignment with your team than winning every argument or proving your own merits. This doesn't mean you avoid conflict or debate. What it means is that you work through the conflict and come out the other side with relationships in tact, indeed, stronger. For more on alignment, Patrick Lencioni's, 5 Dysfunctions of a Team is a must-read.  


As the founder of the company, it's easy - and enticing - to cast yourself as the lone hero, fighting against all odds to bring your baby into existence. Real-world entrepreneurs, however, will tell you it took a team to pull it off.

You may have the ingenuity that a startup needs to be successful in the marketplace, but if you don't have the leadership qualities to guide a growing team then you're limiting your success.

You'll run up against a ceiling that you can't rise above and always wonder why. It's only when you give up the "me" mentality and embrace the "we" mindset, you go up. Remember, Rambo isn't real.

"The secret to success is good leadership, and good leadership is all about making the lives of your team members better."
    — Tony Dungy

A Caveat

If you're currently leading a small team or looking to make your first hire, please don't forget this: Teamwork doesn't work if you hire the wrong people. However, if you're diligent in hiring the right people, teamwork will most definitely make your dream work.