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of the
Leadership Heroic
Roles and Journey


Gordon Barnhart
515 Terrace Avenue
Cincinnati, Ohio 45220
© 2008. Gordon Barnhart. All rights reserved.
Illustrations by Jim Borgman



CALL TO LEAD For us as individuals, the heroic journey is the

great adventure of life. Although usually told
on a larger than life scale, it really is our story.
GETTING IN THE GAME The organizational and community journeys
of change in which we are involved join with
We are called to do things of importance as well
our personal and family changes to provide
as things of necessity. We are called to lead
the opportunities for us to grow and discover
and we are called to follow. The calls are many,
our , become more whole, wiser, more resilient
they occur in different parts of our lives, they
and truly alive. The heroic journey provides the
are complex, they are difficult, and they are usu-
guidance for us as individuals just as it does for

ally beyond the abilities of any one person. It is
our organizations and communities. We just
very easy to refuse the call. The inherent ques-
have to say “yes” to the journeys.
tions are:
The value of the heroic journey for leaders and
ÿ Will we answer the call?
followers who are called to lead major change
is that it provides extraordinary guidance in
ÿ What will we encounter?
finding the answers
to these questions. “The challenge
ÿ What qualities will be required of us and
will we be ready and capable?
It provides guidance will be to find
in both understand- your “call” or
ing what to expect
and why things hap- opportunity even
ÿ What roles must we play and what
strategies can we have confidence in? in the midst of
pen as they do on the
journey. It also pro- having been
ÿ With whom will we lead and follow?
vides a framework
for planning what to
thrown into
ÿ On what foundation can we rely to see
do as well as how to change.”
us through?
respond to events as
they unfold.



If you are reading this you are probably experi-

encing one or more of the following:

1 You are “heeding a call” to go forth and do

something that is of major importance to you
and that will lead through significant change.
The call may have been your own internal voice
or an external voice or messenger to whom
you listened and responded. Regardless of
the voice, you are standing on the threshold
or have already embarked on a journey.

2 You are finding that you have been “lured be surprisingly similar. Regardless of the par-
into” a much bigger change than you at first ticular role, the heroic journey will fit. It will
thought and the journey is appearing to be provide a framework for understanding what
of a much more challenging nature than an- to expect on the journey as well as what to do
ticipated. What may have looked like a small to successfully lead or follow.
change is much more challenging than it first
appeared to be, is requiring more of you, and
will involve more endings and new beginnings
than at first thought.

3 You have been “thrown into” a major change

by another person, a group, an organization,
or a community. It may not feel like your
choice, even if the envisioned outcomes are
desirable, but you are on a journey of major
change nonetheless. The challenge will be
to find your “call” or opportunity even in the
midst of having been thrown into change.

4 You have “blundered into” a major change

challenge. This is an instance where a jour-
ney or “going forth” was really necessary,
but strongly resisted. The theory is that in
such cases, when the conscious self will not
respond, the unconscious causes a person or
group to mess up, fail, start something unan-
ticipated, end up in crisis, or even be injured. THE LEADERSHIP PERFORMANCE
In some form a “blunder” occurs to begin the
necessary journey or change process.
The challenges presented us by our world keep
These are the four classic ways to begin a he-
changing. What worked before in meeting
roic journey (a major change). The changes
those challenges often no longer works. Old
may be personal, family, group, or-
ways must be left behind and new
ganizational or community in focus “The heroic is the
ways must be found. We must con-
or they may be a combination. The level to which we
sistently find new levels of perfor-
story follows the same pattern in
each case and the key questions are need to go to find mance in our organizations or risk
corporate decline or death. This is
the same: “What’s going on?” and sufficient strength,
not a new scenario, although it is one
“What are we going to do about energy, wisdom, that appears to be broader in scope
and courage to and more rapid than in the past. This
5 Your role or roles may also vary. At successfully deal has always been true of our organi-
times or in certain settings you may with the amount zations as well as our communities.
The degree of impermanence now,
be in a leadership role and at other and rate of however, is changing the game dra-
times or in other settings you may
be in the role of a follower. Even in
change we face” matically.
the same change setting your role may shift
More people are called to lead (together). We
over time, although the qualities and charac-
are being asked to perform at high levels in
teristics required for success in each role may

rapidly changing environments characterized what to expect and what to do. We are left with-
by shifting requirements. And we are usually out the truth that would help us understand the
asked to do that in groups ranging from a single experience, choose how to deal with it, and be-
team to extraordinarily complex organizations come more complete human beings in the pro-
or communities. cess.

Not only are the performance demands rising WHY THE HEROIC?
for leaders, but more and more people are be-
ing called to lead. The challenges we face re-
quire increasingly sophisticated webs of leaders MAP FOR LEADERS
and effective followers.
What the heroic journey provides is a call to go
We are Cheated of the Heroic. The truth is that forth to do things worth doing, quests worth our
the heroic journey is what’s required in cases effort and sacrifice. It also provides guidance
of major individual, group, organizational or about the path required, a path known by al-
community change. Unfortunately, the truth is most all cultures throughout history. It provides
usually not told. The complexity and difficulty guidance, a sense of hope and anticipation, asks
of change is undersold. People and what is re- for our best and it is ennobling by its very na-
quired of them are underestimated and, in re- ture. It also provides common ground for col-
turn, people underestimate themselves and the lective action even among people with very di-
challenges and opportunities they face. We are verse backgrounds, styles, capabilities, gender,
thus cheated of the truth and cheated of our race or ethnicity. The path is known and others
possibilities. have gone before. The experience, however, is
different for each person and each challenge. It
The heroic is the level to which we need to go is thus both universal and intensely personal.
to find sufficient strength, energy, wisdom, and
courage to successfully deal with the amount The story of the heroic journey provides us with
and rate of change we face; socio-political the knowledge of what to expect as we go forth
change, technological change, demographic as well as defining the leadership roles we need
change, the globalization of the economy, envi- to play and the strategies we need to execute. It
ronmental change, and the resulting corporate also naturally calls for our best in playing those
and community changes. roles. It provides us with the foundation blocks
on which to base our leadership. It shows us
It’s our world – our choice. Both the health of what to expect, what the experience is likely to
the economy and the health of our social fab- be for us as leaders as well as for those who will
ric (from local to world) are going to require a follow us.
significantly different quality and quantity of
leadership and followership than we have yet
witnessed. The challenge is not for “larger than
life” heroics, but the reclaiming of the heroic
journey as “our story”, the story of what is re-
quired of us in change. The heroic journey must 1 What We Can Expect –
The Realities of Change
be embraced not only individually, but also col-
lectively and it must become the norm rather ÿ We can plan our journeys effectively.
than the exception.
ÿ We can prepare people to be successful.
We are, however, usually left with the impres-
sion that less will be sufficient. We are also left ÿ We will rarely be surprised by events as
to go forth without adequate guidelines about the journey unfolds and can respond

quickly to unforeseen events and needs. ÿ Our Significance.

The heroic naturally calls us to lead and
ÿ We can act with confidence and sureness follow with a sense of our own purpose
because we can see how our actions and significance – not boasting, but
match the requirements of the journey. understanding that our actions make a

ÿ Our Integrity.
The heroic also calls for us to lead and

2 What We Can Do –
The Leadership Roles
follow with integrity. Integrity that can
have two definitions: either (a) matching
our actions and our words and beliefs or
ÿ There are six leadership roles to be (b) being whole, complete or unbroken.
played (Visionary, Architect, Catalyst,
Guide, Builder and Integrator) ÿ Beyond Self.
In playing these roles we need to look
ÿ Each role has three core strategies. beyond ourselves, particularly to the
mission and our followers. We need to be
ÿ The Visionary and Architect roles are willing to sacrifice for others - not being
played in the beginning (Act I of the reckless or self destructive, but from a
journey) posture of seeing leadership as service,
not privilege.
ÿ The Catalyst, Guide, and Builder roles
are played on the path (Act II) ÿ Our Courage.
The leadership roles and strategies rely
ÿ The Integrator role is played in on four forms of leadership courage – the
completing the journey (Act II) courage to:
ƒ See and speak the truth
ÿ These roles can be played by people at
any level – corporate, division, ƒ Create and champion a clear and
department, team – and provide a specific vision of the desired future
coherent common model around which ƒ Persevere and “hold the course”
people can align.
ƒ Rely on others along the path

3 How We Can Do It – WHY THE HEROIC?

ÿ Leadership Webs. People in communities and organizations who
In the heroic myths, heroes who go alone come alive through living heroically bring life
fail. This is also true in corporate or to the community or organization. That has
community change, which is why the been one of the classic functions of the hero, to
roles are played by an array of leaders reinvest the community with life energy or the
and leadership teams throughout the divine. For individuals whose life energy is re-
organization. This leadership web stricted and bound up in living inauthentic lives,
provides the reach, power and resilience healing and release can be triggered by those
to complete the journey. living truly authentic lives, people living hero-

ically and truly being the authors of their lives. WHY THE HEROIC?
Heroes may also be founders or creators, per-
haps of grand things or perhaps of small ones.
The challenge in either case is the same; to Adopting a heroic approach to life provides a
leave the known and comfortable world and go path or framework for exploring the basic chal-
in search of the seed or germinal idea that can lenges of major change, whether individual,
produce that which is needed by the community group, organizational or community. Such an
or organization. In approach is powerful because it is ennobling
“People in and implicitly asks for our best, whatever that
the classic journey it
communities and is a matter of finding is at the time. This holds true for individuals
organizations the source of life and (or families) in the midst of a corporate or com-
munity change or for the authorship of an indi-
who come alive allowing the old to
die in order to be re- vidual life.
through living
born to a richer fuller
heroically bring way of being. Less than heroic dimin-
ishes the individual. “People often
life to the
This is a more lyrical A less than heroic ap- find too little
community or
description than nor- proach also asks too of themselves
organization” mal for organization- little of the individual. simply because
al and community change, but it is completely It does not dignify the
applicable. And more lyricism would probably effort or give the mes- they don’t look
result in better outcomes. sage that the individ- for enough”
ual can be ennobled
The effect of a successful heroic journey is the in the response. People often find too little of
unblocking and release of the flow of life or themselves simply because they don’t look for
creativity into the community or organization. enough - the usual messages blind them to the
Even a journey that is disappointing in specific possibilities.
outcomes can reinvigorate an organization or
community and bring it more fully alive. The heroic journey is about searching for and
manifesting our best even if we don’t know
Another critical function of heroes is to provide what that might be until we stumble upon it. It
images or models around which people in the is about defining ourselves by how we relate to
community or organization can come togeth- external circumstances, the challenges we en-
er. Heroes provide a “pulling together” force counter (“What will I manifest today?”). It does
to counter the increasing forces pulling people not provide specific answers, but provides a
apart. way to pursue those answers, including a way
to understand events and experiences and to
People acting heroically serve as role models, organize responses.
modeling the best of the group’s characteris-
tics, ideals to be pursued, and demonstrating The structure of the heroic journey can provide
that the heroic is for us and not just for mythi- not only the proper perspective on the depth of
cal figures. The weaknesses, mistakes, failures, the challenges, but also a framework for think-
and foibles of those acting heroically are often ing about the experience, understanding what
as instructive as their strengths and successes to expect, and choosing how to respond. It also
and also serve to make the heroic human and challenges the individual to avoid or reject being
accessible. a victim, even of imposed change, and choose
instead to take as much responsibility and ex-
ercise as much influence as possible in shaping

their experience. It is about refusing to be or

stay victimized. ÿ Who am I?

The questions of life. As individuals we all face ÿ How should I lead my life?
a set of basic questions about our lives. We can
choose to answer or ignore them. The heroic ÿ What is the nature of the universe and
journey provides a setting for answering these what is my place in it?
questions as well as living out the answers. It
is always about what kind of a life are we go- ÿ What is my reason for being – my purpose
ing to create. Contemplating these questions in life?
is kind of like looking at the sun. You can’t do
it for long and it’s often best to look indirectly ÿ What are my gifts and how do I bring
– you can clearly see the sun but don’t get over- them to my family, organizations or
whelmed. communities?

The path is known. Throughout history in vir-

tually every culture heroes have left known
worlds to venture into the unknown, face trials,
discover truths and revelations, experience var-
ious deaths and rebirths and “return” bringing
something of value. Corporate and community
change requires the same venturing forth into
the unknown, the same trials and contests, the
death of certain things and the rebirth or birth of
others, and the return or arrival at a new state
of being. The heroic journey of the myths is
mirrored at the individual level in the midst of
corporate or community change and is the best
framework for self-management that we can



We are not strangers to the heroic journey, al-

Note: Sometimes a heroic journey though it may seem strange to hear
is about simple survival or getting “The life of each that. The life of each individual is
by. Other times it allows more direct individual is made made up of many small (and some-
attention to these questions. Every times some very large) heroic jour-
up of many small neys, each testing and developing us
journey, however, will provide more
answers and lead to more maturity (and sometimes in different ways. Throughout our
and wholeness – even the journeys some very large) lives we are called at various times
that don’t bring the some of the out- to go forth and do something of sig-
heroic journeys, nificance that requires major change
comes that are desired.
each testing and of us.
developing us in
different ways” At other times we are thrown into
journeys of change that we do not

choose. We may also be lured into journeys that govern ourselves, how we develop our youth,
turn out to be much more challenging than we or how we maintain the health and well-being
could have anticipated. At still other times we of the people in our communities. We may
may blunder into a journey of change, making also be called to deal with issues of safety, jus-
some mistake or failing at something that opens tice, economic health, neighborhood develop-
surprising doors. ment, combating racism and other “isms”, or
caring for the environment.
1 In our organizations we are called, and very
often thrown, into major changes that fall into As the definition of “community” gets larger,
an impressive array of categories. Changes the issues become increasingly complex and
include starting organizations, going through difficult, for instance the peaceful coexistence
rapid growth, downsizing or ending the life of among nations and groups and the develop-
organizations, merging with other organiza- ment of a sustainable global economy.
tions (including by acquiring them or being
acquired), and separating from organizations. There are many possible positions in com-
munities that will call an individual to lead a
The heroic journey can mean facing changes heroic journey. Some of the natural positions
in strategy, structure, roles, systems and tech- are listed below.
nologies, work processes, skills and compe-
tencies required, standards and expectations, ÿ People in positions of leadership within
the nature of key relationships, career paths, government
and even values and beliefs.
ÿ People in positions of leadership in
There are lots of people in a variety of roles community organizations
for whom the heroic journey has particular
importance. They may in leadership roles, fol- ÿ People who see a need and take action to
lower roles or, most likely, in both roles. For change something or create something
ÿ People involved in changes in service
ÿ Executives senior managers provision that ends the identity or life of
organizations, associations, “ways of
ÿ Middle managers and supervisors likely doing things”, etc.
to be “caught in the middle” of a change
ÿ People taking an activist role when
ÿ Management teams having no history of doing so

ÿ Project teams ÿ People confronting the norm(s) of a

group or community
ÿ Change managers
Each of these roles could be expanded and
ÿ Change teams made much more specific, but these will serve
the purpose of illustration. They can range
ÿ And individuals in any position that may from local in scale to global. It will be evident
be significantly affected by a change that some of these roles or positions are for-
mal leadership roles and some are not. They
2 In our communities we are called to make a all require the traversing of a heroic journey,
difference in an extraordinary range of issues. sometimes in highly visible ways and some-
For instance, we may be called to make a dif- times in almost anonymous fashion.
ference in our educational system, the way we

3 Leadership fatigue. As with most aspects of world, although some or many of the learnings
major change, nothing is as simple as it looks. may have been bittersweet.
Many people will look at the previous exam-
ples and say, “Yes, but I’m not only in one Those challenges may have been solely person-
of those roles, I’m in four of those roles.” It al or may have played out in family, work, so-
is safe to expect a good deal of role overlap, cial, or community settings. In many cases they
which is an increasingly common situation. probably overlapped several of these settings.
Leadership fatigue can set in if a person is in
too many leadership roles for an extended pe- At other times in our lives we were not heroic.
riod of time. This is another reason to focus Confronted by opportunities or major change
on creating webs of leaders and followers, we did not respond by saying “yes” to the he-
so that the responsibility can be shared more roic journey. We may have refused the oppor-
broadly. tunity or the call, choosing to not take the risk or
leave our comfort zone. We may have started
out strongly and been turned back by fears, de-
spair, or mistakes or were simply worn down
before completing the journey. If thrown into
a change, we may have taken the role of victim
and made the best of it, which may or may not
have been very good.


Almost all of us, at various times in our lives,

have taken the risk to be heroic (we said “yes”
to the heroic journey). They were the times
when we were confronted by one of these chal-
lenges and responded in such a way that we Many of us have led changes where we have
went forth from our called others to follow or thrown them into a
“We are not talk- known worlds or journey. In some of those situations we have
ing about being comfort zones into probably followed our own heroic journey and
a grand hero, unknown territory, been able to guide others through the collective
were tested, saw cer- journey, whether organizational or community.
like the ‘larger tain aspects of our
In other changes we probably did not choose
than life’ figures lives end and new to follow the heroic pattern and, consequently,
portrayed in the ones begin, and thus could not truly guide others along the path.
classic myths” came away signifi-
cantly changed. We Our experience as followers has probably been
also came away more mature and more whole similar. At times we have responded to a call or
and with more to contribute, more to offer the chosen the heroic path even when thrown into

the journey. We have actively supported (and and better prepared for the next journey. Even
possibly challenged) those in leadership roles, when journeys aren’t completely successful,
challenged and supported other followers, and most of the rewards can still be realized to a
managed our own journey. At other times we large degree.
have also refused the call to go forth or perhaps
chosen to be more victim than author when The Tests. The heroic journey is a time of end-
thrown or blundering into journeys. ings and beginnings and of the difficult terrain
in between (“inbetweenity”). We may find that
Few, if any, of us can honestly say that we have our tests are physical, intellectual, emotional, or
always lived heroically in our personal lives or spiritual and that our changes are, consequent-
that we have always led collective change hero- ly, in one or more of those areas. Different jour-
ically. The truth is probably that we have varied, neys pose different challenges and opportuni-
perhaps radically, in our approach to change, ties.
whether in managing our own personal change,
following others, or leading others. Some of the tests will be dealing with mistakes
and failures; avoiding the seductive lure of tak-
THE HEROIC JOURNEY ing the easy way out; dealing with uncertainty,
doubt, and perhaps despair; and finding sources
Remember. We are not talking about being a of energy and renewal along the way.
grand hero, like the “larger than life” figures
portrayed in the classic myths. We are talking
about living and leading heroically, following
the path of the heroic journey. We are talk-
ing about the “little
“It is about h” or daily heroism
becoming that is required and
increasingly we have some very
powerful guides that
competent, we can follow.
mature, wise,
resilient, and able The heroic journey
to meet the shift- is the story of the
change or growth
ing challenges of process in its health-
the world.” iest form. It is about
becoming increas- Heroes Don’t Go Alone. Few (if any) people
ingly competent, mature, wise, resilient, and who cross the threshold have to face the trials
able to meet the shifting challenges of the world. and tests alone, although the heroic journey is
Almost all cultures have their own versions of ultimately an individual one. On almost all jour-
the heroic journey to educate their members neys there are helpers of various sorts who can
about what’s required for the health of the com- provide direction, tools, challenge, encourage-
munity as well as individuals. ment, and coaching in coping in the new envi-
The Rewards. The rewards are many. In addi-
tion to increased competencies, wisdom, resil- If alert, we may find companions with whom we
ience and confidence, those following the path can travel for parts of our journey. Other char-
of the heroic journey serve as models for their acters—tricksters, jokers, allies, enemies, oppo-
groups and infuse those groups with life ener- nents, and such—may also be encountered.
gy. Groups and communities become stronger

Many journeys are failures because we never

really leave the known world – we leave a foot
on either side of the threshold. We never truly
let go and, therefore, can never really discover
the new truths, the revelations, and the new life
that are possible.

THREE PARTS OF THE JOURNEY Act II - On the Path. When we do cross the
threshold and move through the land that lies
The heroic journey plays out in three distinct on the other side we are faced with tests and
acts. Each act comes with its own challenges trials that usually require new or altered ways
and opportunities. of perceiving, thinking, relating and acting. For
our organizations and communities we also
Act I – Beginnings. The classic heroic journey see changes in structure, processes, roles,
begins with the crossing of a threshold, leaving technologies and even strategies for compet-
a known world or comfort zone. We may “heed ing for life or position. What worked before
a call,” be thrown into the journey, be lured in, needs to be honored, but may no longer be
or blunder in. The first challenge is getting past effective and may even be counter-productive
the “guardians of the threshold.” The guard- or dangerous.
ians are inner doubts or external forces that try
to turn us back right at the beginning. They are
the first test.

Act III – Completions. For those who success-

fully meet the challenges of the journey the
final phase is some form of return or comple-
tion. We “return” with the gifts that we have
discovered, whether new knowledge or truths,
new abilities, new “ways” or technologies, or
new opportunities.
We have lost sight of the fact that the heroic
The hero’s return may be the most difficult journey is “our story” as human beings. The
part of all. The heroic individual or group will relevance of heroism for most people, their abil-
be changed and that will require changes in ity to see themselves as heroic in any significant
others, for it will change the nature of relation- way, has been severely limited by how it has
ships and alignments of various kinds. Those been portrayed in myths, stories, and the popu-
changes can ripple out in many directions and lar media.
for long distances. The gifts of the hero can
easily threaten the status quo. Again, this is There are three common portrayals of the hero-
as relevant for communities and organizations ic journey that have been particularly limiting:
as it is for individuals. Heroic individuals or

groups must approach the completion of a Larger than Life Portrayals. Seeing the he-
journey with their eyes open. roic as the grand event or achievement or
as restricted to larger than life figures.

2 “Aw Shucks.” The “Aw Shucks” phenom-

enon and the individual’s collusion with the
group to diminish the heroic

3 Excluding the Feminine. The portrayal of

heroism from an almost totally classical
masculine perspective (conquering,
slaying, defeating, rescuing damsels,
acquiring, etc.)

The result is to make it exceptionally difficult

for many people to personally relate to heroism
and the heroic journey. ”Our story” has been
taken from us and we need to take it back and
enrich it in order to meet the challenges that life
is presenting to us. It is not about being a grand
hero, but about living heroically.

The “Larger than Life” Portrayal
of the Heroic

Real heroes are not the gods and demi-

gods of mythology. The adventures of
those figures are told in larger than life
scale because it makes for a better story.

It makes for a better story around the camp- lenge. When challenged, this “aw, shucks
fire and it certainly sells more books and it couldn’t be me” approach to heroism
movie tickets. appears to be less of an indication of hu-
mility than it is a way to avoid taking the
But the story of the heroic journey is really journey, of directly taking responsibility
our story. The gods, demigods, and action for heeding or ignoring the call. There is,
heroes, are “us”. The heroic journey is a however, the legitimate danger of others
challenge before all of us, though not all of seeing our stance of trying to live heroically
us will answer the call or respond heroically as self-glorification or “being better than”.
when thrown into a journey. “Their” jour- Their responses of “who do you think you
neys may be grand and public, while most are?” or “you’re no hero” can reinforce our
(but not all) of “our” journeys will be small- own uneasiness with being heroic and can
er and quieter and less public. The story, undermine the journey even at the begin-
however, will have the same form. ning. It is often hard to remember that such
responses are reflections of others’ discom-
Part of the necessary challenge of reclaim- fort with the prospect of the heroic journey
ing the heroic journey as our story is over- and the implicit challenge of our own heroic
coming this “larger than life” telling of the journeys.
story, our own discomfort with living hero-
ically, and the skeptical responses of others. Colluding With Others to Avoid the Heroic
Our challenge is to make the heroic much The barrier of the individual “aw shucks”
more common in accepting it ourselves and response is magnified by the collusion
encouraging others to go with us on the between society and individuals. In that
journey. collusion (usually unconscious), which is
designed to suppress the heroic approach
to life, each party gains in comfort - or so it
seems at first glance - but loses in creativ-
The “Aw Shucks” Phenomenon
ity, power, and effectiveness.

What society gets out of this collusion is

This is the deceptively effective barrier. that institutions and systems - the status
“Aw shucks, I’m not heroic” has been a quo - are not threatened by many people
common reaction of people when asked to acting creatively and powerfully, taking
apply the concepts of heroism to their own risks, and bringing about change. Change
lives. Many people have a great deal of may be required for the health of the insti-
trouble seeing the heroic elements of their tution or community, but there is always
lives. resistance to those trying to bring it about.

There is a “scarcity theory” in regard to What individuals get out of this collusion
heroism, which says that we can only have is the avoidance of taking full responsibil-
a few heroes because heroism isn’t for ity for their lives and their choices. This
everyone. Heroism, however, is a challenge does not mean that individuals don’t have
that is open to everyone even if many peo- the impulse to follow the heroic path to
ple frequently do not accept the challenge. full maturity and wholeness – just that hu-
There are far more heroes in every organi- man nature comes with this first test to be
zation and community than we credit. passed on the heroic journey.

Hiding From the Heroic Challenge One counter to this collusion is a question
“Aw shucks is a way to hide from the chal- asked in different traditions in different

ways, but is essentially, “If not me/us, then The exclusion of the feminine in portrayals
who and if not now, then when?” of the heroic is increasingly dysfunctional in
a world that more and more requires quali-
Remember ties that are traditionally seen as feminine.
It can be argued that previous environ-
ÿ The heroic myths are grand and our own ments required characteristics of heroes
heroism is mostly, though not always, that were more masculine, for instance
lived out in our daily lives and seems direct, aggressive, often violent action that
unremarkable in comparison. was individually focused.

ÿ The heroic myths tell about occasional Today’s environment, however, clearly
journeys and our own journeys are requires new characteristics and an integra-
surprisingly frequent and even tion of traditionally feminine and masculine
overlapping at times. traits. There is a growing need for this inte-
gration of qualities and competencies that
ÿ Most of the heroic figures in the myths are usually considered to be more feminine,
are larger than life whereas we, with for instance the ability to form and maintain
some exceptions, are ordinary people relationships and to act in a collective man-
doing what we need to do to make a ner, being open and receptive, or the abil-
difference. ity to quietly persevere with patience and

Another set of qualities and competencies

The Exclusion of Women
and the Feminine
could include a strong focus on life; the
ability to create, to nurture and care for,
to develop, and to protect life. Emotional
competency and the ability to attend to the
The traditional telling of the heroic jour- emotional lives of others is yet a third set of
ney is from an overwhelmingly masculine characteristics that needs to be integrated
perspective. In the traditional telling heroes into how we look at heroism.
go forth aggressively to conquer, to kill, to
rescue, to fight, to defeat, to dominate. In It’s About Wholeness
short they go forth to have power over oth- Kathleen Noble, in The Sound of a Silver
ers. This makes for exciting stories, but it Horn, also addresses questions of differ-
obscures not only the feminine aspects of ences and similarities. In a chapter titled
life, but also the real purpose and message “Toward a New Mythology of Heroism”
of the heroic journey. she confronts the need for wholeness or
completion from the standpoint of the
Men are Affected Also. female hero. Not surprisingly, this attention
This phenomenon not only tends to exclude to integration or fusion is just as applicable
women, but also tells men that qualities for men.
that are seen as primarily feminine are not
for them and are not to be included in their “...she must fuse the best attributes of
heroic quest. This simply makes no sense femininity and masculinity and so create
for a journey that is about the search for a new archetype of heroism that speaks to
wholeness and integration and complete- both women and men. This fusion would
ness. make her: independent without being
alienated; courageous without being
The Increasing Need for Feminine Qualities contemptuous of the weak; powerful

without dominating or exploiting others;

rational without suppressing or abandoning
feeling and intuition; autonomous within
interconnected, interdependent, and equal
relationships; nurturing without denying
or sacrificing her own needs; and androgy-
nous without compromising the best
attributes of femaleness but affirming the
wholeness inherent in all.” (p. 194)

It is clearly not an either/or question, but

one of completing the person of the hero to
incorporate both masculine and feminine
characteristics. This is not an indictment
of old myths nor a statement that the older
forms are no longer relevant. In many
cases, for men and for women, the more The Heroic Challenge for Followers
traditional and more masculine heroic pat- For followers the challenge is to take full per-
tern is the one that is required. In many, sonal responsibility for their actions and choic-
and an increasing number of cases, howev- es, understanding and accepting the impact of
er, the traditionally masculine model alone those choices and actions on others, including
is just not what is required. It is simply not those leading. This is a natural consequence of
adequate. being part of the required web of leaders and
followers. The responsibility naturally follows
the significance of the role.

The challenge for followers includes such tests

as accepting and facilitating empowerment, be-
coming partners with others in the web of lead-
THE HEROIC ers and followers, taking considered risks, mak-
ing the leap of faith to trust and the effort and
CHALLENGE commitment to be trustworthy, and to exert the
extra effort required. The tests also include be-
ing honest and forthcoming in communicating
For both leaders and followers the heroic chal- outward and in providing feedback, providing
lenge is a dual one: conducting their own in- support and guidance and care to others as well
ternal journeys as well as playing their part as taking care of oneself. Part of the authorship
in the journey of the group. Both leaders and and partnership is in sharing in the shaping and
followers are inherently challenged to manage championing of the purpose and design of the
themselves in order to play effective roles in the organization and being willing to wisely sacri-
leadership web. fice for the greater good.

The Heroic Challenge for Leaders For both leaders and followers a profoundly im-
For those of us leading a major change the chal- portant aspect of the heroic challenge is the abil-
lenge is to be worthy of followers; their belief, ity to act from three sources of power: a sense
hope, trust, personal investment and effort, their of significance, a sense of integrity and the will-
sacrifice, and the risks they take regarding job, ingness to look beyond ourselves and sacrifice
career, family, and place in the world. when necessary for the others.

The same principles and concepts can be ap-

plied to groups, organizations, and communi-
ties as they discover who they are and strive
to match their behaviors and cultures with that

The basic reality of the heroic journey and its

function for people, both individually and col-
lectively, matches the dictionary definitions of
“integrity” very closely: The state or quality of
being complete, whole, entire, unbroken, sound.
To integrate means to make whole or complete
by adding or bringing together parts, to unify.

Stephen L Carter, in his book Integrity, agrees,

but also sees integrity referring to a sense of
right and wrong and a matching of behaviors to
those beliefs. He sees integrity requiring three
steps: (1) Discerning what is right and what is
wrong; (2) acting on what you have discerned,
even at personal cost; and (3) saying openly that
you are acting on your understanding of right
Honoring Our Significance and wrong. (p. 7)
It is much easier to meet the heroic challenge for
leaders or for followers, easier to find our best, Looking “Beyond Self”
if we have a sense of significance. This does There is a moral aspect to the heroic journey
not mean self-glorification or hubris, but rather and that centers on the willingness and ability
an honest sense of our gifts and the difference of the leader to think beyond themselves, to be
we make. When we understand the value that willing to sacrifice for others or for principles.
we add, it gives meaning to our actions. It also This is the difference between heroes and pi-
highlights the consequences of our actions or rates, adventurers or terrorists. They may all
our lack of action. We are then challenged to have courage, be willing to take risks, be talent-
honor our significance through our behavior. It ed, learn from experience, have vision, and be
is our gift and it naturally makes demands on successful, but they are not the same.
Heroism will inevitable involve sacrifice. Sacri-
Acting with Integrity fice can be defined as giving up something for
People have often asked, “Isn’t the heroic jour- something of greater value. In a way sacrifice
ney really about integrity?” The answer is is like net profit. It requires a cost, but results
“yes.” The heroic journey is about deepening in more benefits. It differs from loss in that loss
self knowledge, discovering our purpose and may simply be the giving up of something. The
the different aspects of ourselves and integrat- hero’s sacrifices and acts have traditionally rein-
ing those parts, becoming whole. That happens vigorated the community, re-infusing the divine
as we discover who we are and match our be- or life energy.
havior to that understanding. It happens over
the course of multiple journeys, the spiral of
journeys that we experience in a life. The bene-
fits of previous journeys are brought to the next
journey as we create our life.

THE FOUR FORMS OF act, anger at a situation or group, feeling pow-

erless or effective or alone in the face of issues,
COURAGE REQUIRED being afraid of how others might respond, etc.
Speaking the truth makes a person or group vis-
OF HEROIC LEADERS ible to others, challenges others, and is a form
of commitment by stepping out of the shadows.
Many people do not want to see or hear the truth
“Courage is rightly esteemed the first and truth-tellers are often not welcome.
of human qualities because it is the
quality which guarantees all others.” Seeing and speaking the truth also has some
Winston Churchill extraordinary benefits, but they are not realized
unless sufficient courage is present. Those ben-
efits can include feeling “authentic” rather than
In leading heroic journeys there are four forms living a lie, increased vitality due to acting and
of courage upon which leaders can draw. These living consciously and not needing to be de-
forms of courage are both challenging and pressed to avoid seeing the truth, etc.
sources of great power. They are natural chal-
lenges in leading journeys of change and cannot There are risks, there are dangers and there are
really be avoided without significant damage to costs to pay. But there are extraordinary re-
leadership credibility. At the same time, when wards to be gained and there are, in many cas-
leaders accept the challenge and draw on these es, far higher risks for not finding the courage to
sources of power, journeys are usually success- see and speak the truth.

Courage is the quality or characteristic that is “Life shrinks or expands in

most often called upon in major journeys of proportion to one’s courage.”
change. Courage comes from Latin and French
Anais Nin
roots, meaning “heart”. In its simplest form it
has to do with an attitude or response of facing
or engaging with something that is perceived as
dangerous, painful, or difficult. Courage is not
the absence of fear or anxiety, but the willing-
ness to move ahead in spite of it.

Courage can come in many forms, but there are

four forms that are at the heart of the ability to
meet the heroic challenges posed for leaders
and followers. Each may be obvious, but the
depth of courage required is surprising. They
are also linked and support each other. They
also rely on each other, for none will have much
of an effect without the others.


Seeing the truth can result in some very uncom-
fortable feelings, including feeling the need to

THE COURAGE TO the commitment to it, which can be painful when

progress is not being made or the transition ef-
fort fails.
“Heroism is not just about
This sounds easy, but it is not. Creating a vi- finding a new truth, but
sion of the desired state requires stating what also having the courage to
is desired and, therefore, what is not desired. It act on that vision”
involves making choices and commitments and
saying “yes” to some things and “no” to many Carol Pearson,
things. Many of those choices will be confus- Awakening the Heroes Within
ing, involve many points of views, lack suffi-
cient data to point to a clear answer, and touch
on values, preferences, and beliefs that may be
extremely important to people. PERSEVERE AND “HOLD
Creating a vision of a desired state also implies
change from “current reality” and, therefore,the
Getting from current reality to the desired real-
inevitable endings/losses, fears, uncertainties,
ity at the end of a journey is usually a relatively
and doubts of the change process. It also shows
long process and one that never goes smoothly.
the gap between current reality and the desired
It is messy at times, is full of uncertainty and
state and that gap is often very difficult to live
doubt, involves all kinds of unforeseen factors
and events, takes a great deal of energy, involves
mistakes and failures, gets very confusing and
disorienting at times, and costs more resources
(from human to financial) than anticipated.

The question then becomes, “Do we hold on to

the vision and let go of current reality or hold on
to current reality and let go of the vision?” The
tension that is naturally created by the gap will
resolve one way or the other.

Holding forth the vision of the desired state

means providing something to be held account-
able for, states what an individual, group, orga-
nization, or community stands for, and deepens

It is often impossible to know exactly what is right understandings and the right skills. But
going on, exactly what to do about it, and what the key is the courage to invest in and rely on
the consequences are going to be. “The un- others to really make a difference.
known” is a frequent companion. Often the
only thing that leaders of change can hang onto This is not a new or trendy truth. Heroes have
is the courage to persevere, to keep putting one never gone alone and been successful in the
foot in front of the other, to refuse quit, and to myths, nor do leaders go alone in corporate
keep finding ways to reorient and renew the ef- or community change and achieve sustainable
fort (and themselves). outcomes. We are truly interdependent on the
journey, whether we like it or not. So we either
find the courage and skill to depend upon, and
“Courage is more exhilarating support, others or we simply won’t have the
than fear and in the long run it reach and the power and the resilience to sus-
is easier. We do not have to become heroes tain the effort.
over night. Just a step at a time, meeting
each thing that comes up,
seeing it is not as dreadful as it
appeared, discovering we have the strength
to stare it down.”
Eleanor Roosevelt

Collaborating with others is always a leap of
faith. Depending on others over whom we
rarely have control, for success when it matters
is never easy. Will they have what we need?
When we need it? Will we measure up when
they need us? Who will play which roles, exer-
cise what influence and add what value? Who
will benefit from the collaboration and how?
Will collaboration take too much time? Will we
get the innovation we need or will we get lowest
common denominator outcomes?

Those are tough questions when important mat- LOSING HEART

ters are on the line. Because of the potential con-
sequences, positive and negative, the courage Heroes, however, do not leave known worlds,
to make the leap of faith to trust and collaborate travel the “trail of tests”, and reach com-
with others must be joined with the skill to col- pletion without at times losing their courage. It
laborate effectively – or courage easily becomes just isn’t human. This is one of the reasons why
foolishness. A lot of us have had disappointing heroes do not go alone. Sometimes courage is
experiences with collaborative efforts and know recovered without help, but often it is the inter-
that we need to have the right partners with the vention, support or belief of others that enables

us to rediscover our courage. At other times it

is a matter of acting courageously even when
the feelings of courage just aren’t present.

“Some days it is a heroic act

just to refuse the paralysis
of fear and straighten up
and step into another day”
Edward Albert

The heroic is being asked of us by our organi-
zations and our communities. Not on a grand
scale, but on a daily and a personal scale. It
may play out at work or in communities from
neighborhoods to our global community. It is
also the great story of creating a worthwhile
and rewarding life. We can say “yes” or we can
say “no” or we can pretend we didn’t hear the