Unleashing the Power of your Story: Leadership and the Hero’s Journey

Sections of this topic

    The World of Stories

    Human history and literature are replete with myths and stories—about the heavens, the earth, planting, the harvest, winter, summer, light, darkness, nations, war, peace, families, and individuals.

    All of these stories, our personal ones and our larger myths, are interconnected. Our individual stories are narratives we have told ourselves about our personal experiences. Our cultural myths are narratives we have created about our collective experience. And, in a very real sense, myths are more universal versions of our own stories, and our own stories are personal versions of age-old myths. Coming to know your own story is high leverage for your growth as a leader

    Joseph Campbell and the Hero’s Journey

    There are remarkable parallels between stories from different cultures and with very different content. These parallels reflect commonalities in the human condition. Joseph Campbell identified a story-type that is particularly applicable to leadership—The Hero’s Journey.Hero’s Journey stories appear in all cultures, but their underlying character, plot, and thematic structure are much the same.

    1. The hero begins in a stable place.
    2. Something breaks her loose.
    3. He goes into a difficult period, the pit, a trauma. He faces the abyss.
    4. She emerges from that dark night of the soul and goes on a journey, a quest to accomplish some great thing, meet some great challenge, and/or get to a particular place.
    5. The hero experiences several tests along the way
    6. If the hero passes his tests and is successful in his journey, he achieves his goal, meets his great challenge, and reaches his desired destination.

    Our life story can be seen as a Hero’s journey, and for leaders, your leadership story is your own hero’s journey.

    For example, Dave is a highly successful mid level leader in a major corporation (stable place). He is promoted to senior management (promotion breaks him loose). Faced with difficult new challenges, he knows deeply that what got him to this point won’t make him successful there (a trauma) and realizes that his has to change his behavior and thinking as a leader (his journey). He experiences specific leadership challenges that he must overcome (tests) in order to be successful in this new world (his desired destination).

    Seeing the story you are experiencing as a leader helps you rise above and master it, rather than letting the story master you.

    The Tapestry of Life

    Myths and personal stories are the symbolic, liturgical retelling of our core life experiences; of our quests for love, power and meaning; of the deeply experienced themes of our existence as human beings on this planet. Your leadership journey, your overall life journey, and your journey in your current phase of life are intimately intertwined. They are all variations of your own hero’s journey. Such is your life story; such is your hero’s journey; such is your leadership story; and such is the human condition. They are all part of one whole cloth.


    To see your own present and desired leadership story, ask yourself,

    • “Where am I in my leadership journey, right now?
    • What was my last plateau? What shook me loose?
    • What is my destination, my goal? What are the major challenges I will face in reaching that goal?
    • How do I proceed effectively and humanely to achieve my goal?”

    Your answers to these questions will begin to paint the picture of your own hero’s journey and help you navigate it more effectively.

    This post as a distillation from Chapter III of my upcoming book: Unleashing the Power of Your Story

    Smashwords, Fall/Winter, 2013.

    Steve is a senior executive coach and consultant. He has developed and successfully uses a powerful approach to leadership coaching, Creating your Leadership Story, which enables leaders to make deep, lasting improvements in their leadership effectiveness in short periods of time. He and a group of partners created a breakthrough educational program, Coaching from a Systems Perspective, in which you can significantly enhance your abilities as a systemic leadership coach. See http://SystemsPerspectivesLLC.com

    If you would like to learn more about systemic approaches to leadership or story work, feel free to call or email Steve:

    Steven P. Ober EdD

    President: Chrysalis Executive Coaching & Consulting
    Affiliate: Systems Perspectives, LLC
    Office: PO Box 278, Oakham, MA 01068
    Home: 278 Crocker Nye Rd., Oakham, MA 01068
    O: 508.882.1025 M: 978.590.4219
    Email: Steve@ChhrysalisCoaching.org