When you go see a movie, there is usually a hero and a villain. The arc of the story shows the hero overcoming obstacles, fighting the odds, and the villain, to eventually win the day. The movie wraps up with the the villain defeated, and all is right with the world.

At Corporate Path Leadership, we encounter many employee conversations that follow the same hero and villain narrative in the workplace. Of course, the people engaged in those conversations are always the hero, and the villains are people in the company that are causing all of the trouble. And in their story those villains must be stopped or removed from the company so the hero employee can succeed.

But what if the hero telling the story is someone else’s villain in the company?

Or what if both parties are both heroes and villains? It is something that seems implausible given our movie narratives. Clearly someone has to be the “good guy” and someone else the “bad guy,” right?

Not so fast…

The reality is that with all of the employees Corporate Path Leadership has come across, there are strengths and weaknesses for each that show up in their daily routines and behavior. There are behaviors also on display in times of calm moments that vary distinctly from behaviors shown during times of high stress. More importantly, while there are behaviors that employees know and recognize about themselves in a corporate environment, there are likely other behaviors that others see, but the employee may not see themselves. With these corporate realities, it is easier to understand how the hero and villain can show up in the same person.

So what do you do when you might not be the hero in certain corporate scenarios?

Step #1: Elevate Your Self-Awareness

The first and most important step to overcoming this is elevating your self-awareness of your behavior in the office. We recommend that you list your known strengths and weaknesses at work, and use that as a starting point. Once you have your list of strengths and weaknesses, find an internal colleague that you know and trust, and ask them to meet you for coffee or lunch away from the office. Share your list of strengths and weaknesses with them, and ask them to comment on your list. Be sure to also ask what else should be added to both strengths and weaknesses.

The outcome might surprise you. Not only will you have a different perspective on some of your strengths — including ones that you might not recognize yourself, but you may find clues to some weaknesses that you didn’t know existed. To add depth to your colleague’s input, ask them directly about situations in the office where you think you were operating at your best, as well as moments where you weren’t showing the best possible face in a given situation. Ask them how they might have handled the situation differently.

Step #2: Apply Your Feedback In the Office

The second critical piece to self-discovery is using this feedback by applying it to common office situations. For example, are you operating at your best in large group environments, or on a one-on-one environment? Are you at your best when focusing on one key project vs. managing many projects simultaneously? While there are many work-style tools like Myers-Briggs and DISC that can be useful in this regard, using someone else’s input on your behavior can help zero in on those moments when you are likely to be the hero vs. those moments when your “villain” side might appear.

Step #3: Adapt Your Behavior

Finally, when you know you are entering territory where you might not have been a hero in the past, be cognizant of your behavior tendencies and think strategically about what you will do differently this time. Focus on the reactions of other colleagues in these situations so you can alter your normal behaviors if they are reacting in a way that seems off.

David Rock offers five domains or drivers that influence behavior in social interactions in his paper, “SCARF: A Brain-Based Model for Collaborating With and Influencing Others.” The following drivers trigger the threat/reward response our brains are wired for, and rely on for physical survival. Consider whether your “villain side” is triggering a negative response as a result of one of these domains. Focus instead on the reward aspects.


  • Are you being respectful?
  • Did you forget to invite someone to an activity?
  • Are you wielding power and authority over others or undermining them publicly?
  • Consider praising them instead when they perform well.
  • Ask for their suggestions to solve a challenge to show you value their opinion.
  • Let your team know you appreciate their skills and feedback.


  • Are you actively communicating information, timelines, and expectations with others on your team?
  • Do you encourage team members and let them know they are on the right track?
  • Consider breaking up complex challenges or processes into multiple, smaller, digestible chunks that will be easier to understand and provide clarity for the team.


  • Do you delegate or do you hold on to projects?
  • Do you micromanage all the details of projects or do you trust your employees to get it done with just your guidance?
  • It’s helpful to encourage your team to take on more responsibility and use their initiative.
  • Include them in the decision-making processes so they feel like they have some control.
  • Encourage new ideas.


  • Are there cliques in your organization?
  • Do you, or others ostracize team members?
  • Do some members of your team seem isolated or lonely?
  • Consider using a buddy system to pair up co-workers for increased involvement.
  • Mentoring within the organization is another great way to boost relatedness which in turn boosts creativity, commitment and collaboration.
  • Check in regularly with team members who seem vulnerable.


  • Are you being open and honest with team members about what and why something is happening?
  • Are you favoring some employees over others?
  • Avoiding showing favor of one person over another or excluding team members from activities.
  • Set clear rules, individual and group goals, team hierarchy and roles, objectives and expectations.

No one wants to be a villain in the office environment. However, to be a true hero, you need to sharpen your own self-awareness and realize that we all have moments of strengths and weaknesses. Adapting our natural tendencies is a giant leap forward for demonstrating true leadership.

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