A Hero’s Journey at Work

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Joseph Campbell once said, “A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.” 

Reading a quote like that takes me to a mythical place,  somewhere lofty,  and expansive, where I wonder what it would be like to make a  BIG difference to an entire  company, country or all of humanity.

And then my email dings, and I snap back into the present and I start to think about a different kind of heroics.  The kind I hear about with certain types of clients all the time.   They say things like:

  • “We have to stop the firefighting.”
  • “Everything we do here seems like a fire drill.”
  • “We have too many diving catches.”

Sound familiar?  If it does, maybe you are working in a hero’s culture.  Organizations have archetypes that contribute to their culture.  An archetype is typically thought of  as “a recurrent symbol or motif in literature, art, or mythology.” In business, archetypes often lead to patterns of behavior that are expected and get rewarded over and over again.

A company like Disney might have the archetype of a magician, where employees see themselves as miracle workers who make magic happen!  Or take Harley-Davidson, whose archetype may be the revolutionary. They see themselves as a band of rebels, taking risks and challenging the status quo.  A health care organization might have the archetype of the helper, or a greeting card company the lover. The core archetype of an organization is often deeply imbedded.  It may even be why the organization got started in the first place.

So let’s get back to the heroes…you know who you are out there.  We wouldn’t expect Disney to say, we have to stop being miracle workers and making magic happen!  Just as Harley-Davidson wouldn’t be Harley if they stopped being at least somewhat rebellious.

If you happen to work in a hero’s culture, it might just be time to change the conversation.  Heroes are known for achieving results, overcoming obstacles, and crusading for others.  They often act selflessly on behalf of a winning team! It’s time to embrace your inner hero, just in a new way.

Heroes value courage, energy and giving it their all but they also value focus, discipline, and principled action. When a leader calls me, it’s often because their team is living the first 3 values and are about to collapse from exhaustion. Learning to embrace the balancing values of focus, discipline, and principled action is where the real magic happens!

Here’s the Cliff Notes version for some of my busiest heroes out there: Being a real hero means practice and rest days, not being on the playing field 24 by 7.  It means saying no to some things and yes to what really matters. It means sharpening your game plan so it takes less brute force  to get every play across the line. It means possibly taking 12 hours on “fire prevention training” so you spend 100 less hours a year interviewing new firefighters.

What’s one thing you could say no to this week so you could sharpen your focus?

What’s the one area of training, process or discipline your team could adopt with low time invetment?

Want help figuring out what your organizational archetype is?  Contact me – I love that stuff!

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