Movies have a way of infiltrating our way of thinking, especially when it comes to leadership and influence. Sometimes this is not always useful.

One persistent meme is that of the Warrior Leader. The Warrior Leader is heralded as someone to admire. Their influence is remarkable. They can inspire others to put themselves in harm’s way for the sake of a cause. 

The Warrior Leader image pervades all of our stories, past and present. 

There is good reason for this. A warrior leader fights to win rights. What is ‘right’ can be contentious. In this context we mean fundamental human rights. These rights make the individual’s life better, and as such the whole of society improves. It sounds noble and virtuous.

A Warrior Leader has many strengths:

  • Ferocious commitment to a cause
  • Values-driven decisions
  • Win rights
  • Courage under fire
  • Tenacity
  • Self sacrifice 
  • Passion and vision.

What’s not to like?

Warrior leaders are incredibly seductive. They fight for a noble cause, they reduce issues to black and white ideals, and they self-sacrifice gallantly, leading the way. That kind of energy is attractive, regardless of the morality.

Beware of the trap of the Shadow Warrior – The Bully

Bully Warrior Leaders are divisive. They build walls, not bridges. They exclude, don’t include. They see more threat and less opportunity. They see winners, and losers. It’s a zero sum game. They dress up reasons for battle as a ‘cause’. Then they draw imaginary lines between “us” and “them.” They make it a struggle between good vs bad.

Bully Warrior Leaders are obsessed with results. They create Win First Cultures. They play to win and targets are everything. While these cultures can have a huge work ethic, they can turn bad quickly. Australian Cricket was cited as having a ‘win without considering the costs’ attitude. So did many of the banks who fell to unethical practices just to meet targets.

These are the risks of the Bully Warrior – a key influence trap:

  • We fight for results to the detriment of others
  • We become bent on an Us vs Them where it is destruction of the other
  • We fall to win at all costs or in spite of the costs
  • Our gain harms others
  • We build walls instead of bridges.

The Bully Warrior looks an awful lot like a Warrior Leader: strong talk, ‘noble’ cause, tough stance. Both are in for a fight. Be mindful of what the fight is about!

Are you fighting to win or fighting to win rights? Do you see your opposition as the enemy or possible future collaborators? Does your gain help or hinder others? 


Related Articles:

Rising to power – a book review

What to do when your senior leaders suck at people management

Your two key responsibilities as a senior leader



  • Zoë Routh

    Australia's Leadership Expert, Author of Book of the Year "People Stuff" l Speaker l Mentor l Strategist

    Zoë Routh is one of Australia’s leading experts on people stuff - the stuff that gets in our way of producing results, and the stuff that lights us up. She works with the growers, makers, builders to make people stuff fun and practical.

    Zoë is the author of four books: Composure - How centered leaders make the biggest impact,  Moments - Leadership when it matters most, Loyalty - Stop unwanted staff turnover, boost engagement, and build lifelong advocates, and People Stuff - Beyond Personalities: An advanced handbook for leadership. People Stuff was awarded Book of the Year 2020 by the Smart WFM Australian Business Book Awards.

    Zoë is also the producer of The Zoë Routh Leadership Podcast.