Wholehearted Leadership Opinion: The Hero’s Journey puts crisis into perspective

The COVID-19 crisis has thrust all of us into an uncertain new world. But as leaders, we can seize the opportunity to embark on the Hero's Journey, putting aside limiting thoughts and beliefs and drawing on the help and encouragement of allies...

Credit: azboomer/Pixabay

Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, you’re on that adventure, whether you like it or not

You have been called into an epic journey that unites all of humanity. You are part of what is known as the monomyth: a story, a journey, a myth found in every culture on Earth. This story is widely depicted in modern culture. Ever watch a Hollywood blockbuster? Then you’ve seen the Hero’s Journey profoundly and powerfully portrayed.

In 1949, U.S. comparative mythologist Joseph Campbell published his book The Hero With a Thousand Faces. Campbell studied the heroic myths and epic tales from numerous cultures around the world, postulating that there is a single monomyth uniting everyone, now known as the Hero’s Journey.  

George Lucas said that the Hero’s Journey heavily influenced his Star Wars saga. Batman, Gladiator, Braveheart, Superman, Avengers, Harry Potter, The Matrix, Transformers, The Lord of the Rings—name a popular epic adventure story, and there you will see the Hero’s Journey.

Why do many of these epic tales move us so profoundly? Because their theme resonates deeply in our hearts. They are a journey into greatness—into becoming who we are born to be—common to all of us.

Let me explain.

First, let’s define a hero. I would like to suggest that a hero is someone who sacrifices themselves for the benefit of others. Your good at my expense. I can spend myself for the benefit of others—a hero. Or I can spend others for my own benefit—a villain.

Being “heroic” is simply good leadership. Good leaders recognize that they are meant to be spent for the benefit of those they lead. Their goal is to envision, empower and equip people to be their best.

Now what is the nature of the journey the hero is called into? Campbell outlined 17 stages in the Hero’s Journey. Like others, I have condensed them:

  1. The Ordinary World
  2. The Call
  3. Tests, Trials, Allies and Enemies
  4. The Ordeal: Die to Self
  5. Seizing the Sword
  6. The Resurrection
  7. The Transformed Road Home

We start out in The Ordinary World, which is different for everyone. We are then called into an adventure of sorts—sometimes thrust there by forces beyond our control. At first we may refuse the call, not wanting to leave the comforts of our ordinary world or not believing that we have what it takes. Ultimately we respond to The Call, often with help from a mentor.

We then step into a bigger story and a difficult stage involving Tests, Trials, Allies and Enemies. This is uncomfortable and overwhelming. We must understand who our allies are on this arduous journey. And we find out who our enemies are—what we must battle in order to overcome.

In the midst of this battle, we undergo an Ordeal. Entering a deep, dark place of discouragement, despair and hopelessness—our “inmost cave”—we come face-to-face with our seemingly insurmountable fears, failures and false beliefs. This is the point in our journey where we either Die to Self and start to win, or we lose. If we’re unwilling to face, address and put to death the fears, failures and false beliefs that hold us back and cause us to cling to a small, cowardly image of ourselves and the difference we can make, we do not progress.

However, if we die to ourselves, vanquishing the fears, failures and false beliefs that have kept us living a smaller, and perhaps selfish, story, we enter the next stage of our journey. We Seize the Sword of truth, boldness, sacrifice, authority, belief, faith, character, perspective, commitment, conviction, identity and step into our new self—The Resurrection. 

In our new resurrected strength and life, we now travel The Transformed Road Home to create positive change in the ordinary world we came from.

So how does this apply to you?

The COVID-19 crisis has thrust all of us unwillingly into a new world of test, trials, allies and enemies. As leaders, we face demands we’ve never had to confront. No doubt you’re coming face-to-face with your deepest fears, your failures and false beliefs. You may very well be in the inmost cave right now, battling for your life, and the life of your business.

You can do this! More accurate, we can do this! You stand alone, but you are not alone. You must draw on the help and encouragement of your allies. The “enemies” we face will overwhelm us if we don’t work together. So put aside your limiting thoughts and beliefs, and the previous failures that may have defined you.

Seize the sword of truth, courage, conviction, commitment, strength and boldness that will enable you to step into a new self—a heroic self, intent on wholeheartedly leading the people entrusted to your care in the midst of this crisis.

Yes, we are all on the Hero’s Journey, whether we like it or not. Let’s commit to journeying together as allies, to battle the enemies we find in our inmost cave so we can reach a new level of leadership.

This crisis can transform us into heroic leaders if we recognize the nature of the journey we are on. We are meant to be spent for the benefit of others. 

David MacLean empowers CEOs, entrepreneurs and executives to dare greatly in his role as chair of The Executive Committee (TEC) Canada. David also writes and speaks on Wholehearted Leadership: inspiring, encouraging and equipping leaders to harness their most valuable asset—their HEART. You can reach him at david@wholeheartedleaders.com