When we have the courage to live the life we were meant to live, we find that we all have an inner hero waiting to guide us on the pathway to success. Mythical heroes endured great challenges before gaining treasure at their journey’s end.
As heroic business leaders, we must embark upon our own painful journeys of discovery to find treasure in our career and company. We are all navigators of life, learning the lost art of finding our way which our ancestors embedded in myths for our modern use.
For 35 years, I have been invited into thousands of troubled corporations. I have seen that not much changes unless the leader survives a jaw dropping tragedy. He or she can then be transformed by loss into a resilient, successful, and lovable business builder.
Not much changes in a company unless such a crisis cracks the shell of the CEO, Division EVP, Department Head, or Team Manager causing him or her to embark on his own journey into uncharted territory, where a small miracle can happen and where the leader’s True Self can emerge.
The boss’s emerging genuineness is the precursor to the team’s empowerment to reveal their own True Selves – which grants them permission to reveal the new True Company.
The Power of Myth to Help Find Success and Happiness
To survive the crises of the marketplace your team must traverse the same stages that mythic heroes encountered. The stages appear different because we are in the modern times, but they are the same stages.
If you’ve studied or read about storytelling, you’ve probably heard of the hero’s journey. If not, no worry. If you’ve seen the Star Wars Trilogy, Lion King, or the Wizard of Oz you get the concept.
You already possess all you will need to find the treasure you seek. This article will help you unlock it!
How Does the Ancient Hero Myth Apply to Our Career and Company?
Carl Jung the Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst taught that myths are essential because they contain common themes, archetypes, and fears found in humans around the globe. Jung discovered that the hero’s journey is the overarching idea taught in myths throughout history.
Myths should not be read literally. Embedded within them were road-maps to help readers find what they were really seeking. The myth of alchemy – converting lead into gold – was cover for the spiritual happiness sought by metallurgists. The Holy Grail sought by medieval intellectuals wasn’t Jesus’ cup, but a cover story for the real spiritual work they sought to do, but were afraid would run afoul of the Church. The roadmaps in myths lead us to tools we can use in our own lives.
Caution. Many people in our society have been taught to equate the hero’s journey with the phrase follow your bliss. They have been mislead. Myths teach that only adventures to the darkest most painful parts yield the happiness you seek. To undertake the hero’s journey, prepare to do some hard work. Just as body builders increase the load on the body to build muscle, we corporate-warriors increase the stress load on our thinking to increase spiritual muscle and emotional intelligence.
Crises Can Release Our True Selves
When something very difficult confronts you – a personal or business death or a promotion – you can meet the challenge by learning something painful. When you fail, your outer shell is cracked open; your true self can escape and rise like the Phoenix. There are no limits to how tall you can grow.
The Attraction of the Hero’s Journey
Heroes across eras, cultures, and geographies have undertaken daring adventures. Their ancient journeys provide signposts for our road-map. When we follow that eternal map, we can reset in alignment with the path that is ours alone to walk, serendipities increase, and doors open.
The hero’s journey in myth, in your company, or in your career leads through the same three stages.
Stage 1 – The Call to Adventure begins with the hero living a comfortable life when something – a business challenge, a personal tragedy, or a wonderful opportunity knocks you off your pedestal.
Answering the Call. When you ask yourself for permission to take the hero’s journey, you are opening up to deep vulnerability. Your inner hero is asking to receive guidance, admitting that you need help from the universe to become fully happy.
The strong will of many business leaders has been the basis for their success. We have learned to control whatever we could in order to survive. In a crisis we try to control everything and everybody. Only when we stop and admit that we need to let go of the illusion of power over the market and other people can we move in a more positive, productive, and rewarding direction.
Stage 2 – Crossing the Threshold or Entering the Abyss is a commitment to change, a leaving behind of the old. At a central turning point, the hero must face the death of the old self. There is an essential epiphany – to integrate our dark side and strip out the big ego. Leaving behind character defects, our inner hero pivots toward a new life based on more productive more lovable character assets.
Stage 3 – Coming Home is when we realize the whole point of the journey is not moving away from the world, but a richer more joyful participation in it.
When you come home with your shell shattered, you can lead intentionally with new character assets. To do this, the hero must embrace a new life vow. For many, this is a vow of love and service; to esteem others. This new mode of living is to show up fiercely positive and kind.
Be the Hero in Your $7 Billion Company
Let’s look at the battle of a corporate warrior who learned to surrender into full acceptance of his crisis. He used his vulnerability to enlist superior business experts who had previously solved his problem. These industry survival guides taught his management team to have the right adventures at the right senior level to read the right environmental clues to harvest new sources of profit and happiness.
Selling to a $1.5 Billion Customer, Vulnerability Gets the Deal Done
The new Vice President of a $7 billion group purchasing cooperative managing $250 million in revenue was told that to meet his first year quota, he had to increase sales to an important customer by $75 million (or 20%).
This customer was purchasing 62% of its supply chain spend off-contract. The VP talked to his predecessor, who had no clue why.
The VP met with each of the customer’s CEOs at their respective plant locations. He heard that his predecessor had sold them tens of millions of dollars in computers that they didn’t request or need, and sold directly to corporate headquarters, which humiliated these local chiefs, and killed pay raises and bonuses usually due for them. The VP sat side-by-side with these plant executives while they vented their pent-up resentment.
By being empathetic without showing a lick of hubris, he uncovered an unknown customer wound inflicted on those plant leaders, which prevented them from buying more from his company.
During discussions with plant management teams, the VP used the universal shame-healing recipe of letting these plant chiefs lead him where they needed to go. His vulnerability was the antidote to their shame wound. He could feel it in a room when the envelope of trust was rebuilt, because these plant executives opened up about how the VP’s company could help them reduce operating costs and improve the technical performance of products.
This customer increased its purchasing by 20%; the VP’s team met quota with an additional $75 million in sales.
The VP Attains the Holy Grail and Becomes His Company’s Hero
The Chairman of the customer’s Board bestowed on the VP the honor of a seat at his monthly planning table. The VP had earned the right to move from salesman and technical advisor, to trusted partner. No longer was he “selling-in” products; he had obtained the right to “design-in” his products. This is the Holy Grail sought by every sales professional.
Be a Hero in Your Career
Successful leaders discover, as the new VP did, that the senior leader’s individuation – his pivot to leading with his lovable, trustworthy character assets – is the signpost for the team’s individuation, which directly paves the way for the company’s individuation.
Surviving the Business Jungle is Like Surviving the Amazon
Your team cannot think its way to a better company. As I learned traveling in the Amazon jungle, you must relinquish control and allow seasoned jungle guides to lead you until you have learned enough to lead jointly.
The mythic prototype is the same as a good company prototype. Flush hubris from the thinking that put you in this crisis, then read environmental clues that lead you to success. Learn to travel like Marco Polo before there were maps, reading and adapting to the lay of the land; because in your company, career and personal life, there are no maps.
You Will Never Find Happiness Until You Face the Truth
The treasure you will find on your hero’s journey is the truth you’ve avoided, your beauty!
The journey to success starts with embracing crises as blessings. Remember before saving the world, every hero lost everything. Business transformation begins with you.
Without new starts in nature, in companies, and in careers – no shells are cracked and no growth happens. Myths teach that you can’t think your way into a better life; you have to live your way through new adventures to better thinking to get a better company.
New starts only happen if you answer the call to adventure.
Start the adventure!
About the Author
Chas Klivans is the CEO’s Navigator; a turnaround wizard, company founder, and ex-psychotherapist.
Chas says, “I take you on the Hero’s Journey and help you unfreeze your company, career, and life. I’m comfortable among wolves in the Board Room and Wakhan Corridor.”
Chas’s journey from an Afghanistan prison and the Amazon jungle to the board rooms of billion-dollar corporations, has enabled him to be a true business pioneer.
His book The Inner and Outer Game of Business: Playing the Whole Game Will Take You Further Than You Have Ever Been, will be available soon.
For consulting and speaking opportunities contact Chas at CKlivans@InnovationTwo.US.