We’ve all grown up with stories of Heroes – from the comic book characters of Superman, Spiderman, and WonderWoman through to fairy tales of the dashing prince saving the damsel in distress, through to religious icons like Jesus and Mohammad. The Hero story pervades our psyche.
Joseph Campbell writes extensively about the common pattern of the hero story across human cultures. It’s part of who we are, how we think about life and its challenges, and what it means to have a life of purpose.
But the hero has gotten a bad rap of late in leadership thinking.
The idea that there is one person – usually male – who can save the day, make things better, and bring hope to the world is rife. US Presidential candidate races are run on this premise – it’s all about the individual.
We idolise and make much of the person ‘out in front’: the army general, the CEO, the politician.
Why has this now been seen as a problem?
Because our cultural context is completely different.
We live in a global interconnected world, with complex and extensive challenges that go across borders and cultures, and will affect many generations hence.
Thinking one person is going to fix it all, then we are blind to the world of our own making, and equally handicapped in addressing the issues.
Put simply, the world is too big, and too complex for one mind alone.
We are in this together, we need collective, collaborative, and creative thinking to steer our planet safely through its threats.
And yet…what of the hero? Are we to become faceless bodies in grey suits, bowing to the collective?
By thinking that we can not save the day do we risk losing the best bits of the hero: courage, daring, risk-taking?
There is a place for the hero in leadership – and it’s deeply personal.
To consider ourselves heroes is not only inspiring, but incredibly useful.
To see our lives as a series of quests, of challenges to overcome, of new abilities and insights gained, and then to bring that wisdom back to the village for the greater good – this is a framework and a story that gives our lives meaning and purpose.
To see our lives in the hero’s journey context (thank you Joseph Campbell) keeps us mobilised and focused on evolution – of ourselves and our world. We lose the sense of “I’m too small to make a difference” and gain “I’m small, so I am the difference”. My journey becomes a thread in the tapestry, essential to the pattern, but not the pattern itself. We can celebrate the individual hero for their own unique contribution, rather than seeking the hero as having THE contribution.
Each hero’s journey is thus part of the story of the world’s hero’s journey: we are not trying to save the world, we are trying to save ourselves, and in doing so, the world is saved.
So, Heroes, onwards – there are mountains to climb and dragons to slay. Just look out for the belly of the whale. Nasty place that.