Some fly, others fall from grace. Some run toward the tragedy.

“We all have our heroes,” Václav Klaus, former president of the Czech Republic, said when he was on campus in April to talk about his hero, economist Friedrich Hayek.

Two University of Richmond professors are discovering exactly how much we love – and need – heroes.

Psychology professor Scott Allison and leadership studies professor Al Goethals are more in demand than ever as mentors, authors and commentators for local and national media thanks to their research on heroes.

They maintain a wildly successful blog on the topic, collaborate on research, offer unique classes such as a First-Year Seminar on heroes and villains and work with students on research projects about heroes. Allison, @HeroesToday, now has more than 35,000 Twitter followers.  

The attention is a little surprising, he says. “At one point, our blog was getting almost 500 visitors each day. It was unreal.”

Heroic leadership

Their second book together, “Heroic Leadership: An Influence Taxonomy of 100 Exceptional Individuals,” turns a scholarly lens on heroic leadership. It was published in March.

Lincoln may be considered a heroic leader, but what about Lady Gaga? Can pop culture icons even be considered leaders?

“Heroes influence us,” says Goethals, a professor in the Jepson School of Leadership Studies. “If you think about leadership being broadly about influence, the overlap between heroes and leadership becomes obvious. The two are more intertwined than what people might think.”

“All heroes are leaders, but not all leaders are heroes,” says Allison, a professor in the School of Arts and Sciences.  

They profile 100 heroes – from literature, history, politics, sports, music, film, religion and everyday life – to shed light on the nature of heroic leadership. They split the profiles into 10 categories such as trending, tragic, traditional and transforming. George Washington made the list. So did Justin Bieber, Harry Potter, Gabrielle Giffords, those involved in the Chilean miner rescue and “our parents.”

Ultimately, they show that “our most cherished heroes are also our most transforming leaders,” says Goethals.

Their heroes

Take a class with Goethals, a respected presidential scholar, and it doesn’t take long to guess his favorite hero. It’s also his favorite leader. “I saw ‘Lincoln’ three times when it came out,” he says. “And I would see it again.”

Allison also has his favorite: Roberto Clemente. “The first time I remember thinking about the concept of heroes was the 1971 world series,” he says.

Next they plan to collaborate on a book about Muhammad Ali, Martin Luther King Jr. and Elvis.

“It’s going to focus on the social and cultural transformation these three “kings” helped trigger in our society in the late 50s and 60s,” says Allison.

“They were all true leaders,” says Goethals.