Profiling the heroic leader: Empirical lessons from combat-decorated veterans of World War II

Brian Wansink*, Collin R. Payne, Koert van Ittersum

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

64 Citations (Scopus)


How is heroism related to leadership? A survey of 526 World War II combat veterans suggests leadership, loyalty, and risk-taking are three differentiating dimensions of combat-decorated heroism. The results also show that the relative strength of these dimensions varies between those who were eager to enlist (eager heroes) versus those who were drafted or otherwise reluctant to enlist (reluctant heroes). A second study of West Point Cadets and civilians supports the notion that the leadership exhibited by heroes is more strongly associated with transformative leadership than with transactional leadership. These findings offer two contributions. Conceptually. these profiles in heroism can help us better understand leadership in crisis situations. operationally, these profiles may aid recruiters of soldiers, fire fighters, police officers, and rescue workers by knowing what characteristics in potential employees might best reflect the potential for heroic leadership. (c) 2008 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)547-555
Number of pages9
JournalThe Leadership Quarterly
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Oct-2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Crisis leadership
  • Hero
  • Heroism
  • Military
  • Transformational leadership

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