Leadership Coaching – The Hero’s Journey
My name is Sari van Poelje. I’m an expert in business innovation and I help businesses innovate their enterprise more quickly than they innovative products. One of the things I do is coaching individual leaders and leadership teams.
We’ve spoken about my interest in silences, stories and sequences. I want to go deeper into that theme of storytelling. One of the things I use to help leaders understand their story is the hero’s journey. The hero’s journey is based on a book by Joseph Campbell called The Hero With a Thousand Faces.
Christopher Vogel simplified Campbell’s list of steps, and demonstrated how each myth in each saga goes through the same steps:
Call to adventure
Refusal of the call
Meeting with the mentor
Crossing the threshold of power
King for a day
Meeting with the goddess
Back to the light
Return with the elixir
I put the hero’s journey on the floor as I am coaching leaders and I ask them to walk their journey, walk the journey of the organization, walk the journey of the team and see where they get stuck. Sometimes when people get stuck it’s because they haven’t spent enough time in the previous step.
Last week I had someone who wanted to go straight from prologue into power which is step 5 and skip all the rest. I asked him, “Why do you want to skip all the rest? If you have never learnt to say ‘no’ to the call to adventure you don’t build enough strength, persistence or resilience in your life to push through when the going gets tough. So going straight to power won’t help you because then you have the power, but as soon as something goes wrong you don’t have the resilience.”
“Oh,” said this leader, “Maybe I should go back a step?”
“Yeah maybe you should. Maybe that could help you to realize you also have the right to learn step by step.”
Sometimes leaders get stuck in other ways.
In the hero’s journey, you see that sometimes the heroes get stuck not in the previous step but on the diagonal. I see people for instance who are in ordeal, they’re going through their worst nightmare. But the reason they’re going through their worst nightmare as a leader is because they answered the wrong call to action.
I had one leader who told me that every time he ends up with the same job even if it’s got a different title. “Every time I have a job where I have to introduce change in the organization. Because I’m good at it they keep asking me for the same thing. But each time I get into the ordeal, because I get all the resistance of the organization without having any allies.”
I said, “How do you get called?” “Last time I had a job like that the biggest boss called me up and he said, ‘John you’re the only one who can do this.’ And I said yes.”
I asked him if this was the way he usually accepted projects, as ‘the only one – the hero.’ He said: “Now I think about it. Yeah that’s really a way you can seduce me to do the project.”
One of the points in the leadership coaching with this guy was to help him check out what conditions he needed to accept requests. Instead of focusing on the the honour of getting a call from the highest person to change the organization to really check out if the conditions for change in place.
The last step in the hero’s journey is the elixir. Let’s pretend that you’re at the end of your life and you’re looking back, what have you done to make the world a better place? Sometimes leaders come up with surprising answers that lead them to a completely different path.
Last time I had a leader and he said to me: “I’m not so interested in making another product for a multinational, I think I’m much more suited to do Silversmithing. So I’m going to build out my hobby into my job because what I want to do for the world is to make beautiful things.”
When we look at leadership team coaching one of the things we look at is stories.
What I use to look at stories is the hero’s journey and I really invite you to use it too.
Vogel, Christopher (2007). The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure For Writers.