the

POWERofSAYING

“YES”

ANSWERING THE CALL TO LEAD
HEALTHY
ORGANIZATIONS
AND COMMUNITIES

Answer
the
Call

Leadership
Roles and
Strategies

Knowledge
of the
Heroic
Journey

Leadership
Web

Gordon Barnhart
515 Terrace Avenue
Cincinnati, Ohio 45220
USA
513.221.0833
© 2008. Gordon Barnhart. All rights reserved.
Illustrations by Jim Borgman

THE POWER OF
SAYING “YES”
LIFE’S GREAT ADVENTURE
WHY ME? IF NOT YOU, THEN WHO
AND IF NOT NOW, THEN WHEN?

3
3

THE LEADERSHIP PERFORMANCE
IMPERATIVE

4

WHY THE HEROIC A COMPLETE AND TRUSTWORTHY
MAP FOR LEADERS

5

WHY THE HEROIC –
LIFE ENERGY AND ROLE MODELS

6

WHY THE HEROIC –
VALUE FOR THE INDIVIDUAL

7

RECLAIMING OUR HEROISM –
“WHO ME” “YES, YOU.”

8

SOMETIMES HEROIC
AND SOMETIMES NOT

10
11
12

THE HEROIC JOURNEY
THREE PARTS OF THE JOURNEY

WARNING – THE THREE
BARRIERS TO ACCEPTING
THE HEROIC CHALLENGE

13

THE HEROIC CHALLENGE

16

THE FOUR FORMS OF COURAGE
REQUIRED OF HEROIC LEADERS

18

LOSING HEART
ANSWERING THE CALL –
SAYING “YES”

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21

THE POWER OF SAYING “YES”

ANSWERING THE
CALL TO LEAD

LIFE’S GREAT ADVENTURE

GETTING IN THE GAME
We are called to do things of importance as well
as things of necessity. We are called to lead
and we are called to follow. The calls are many,
they occur in different parts of our lives, they
are complex, they are difficult, and they are usually beyond the abilities of any one person. It is
very easy to refuse the call. The inherent questions are:

? 

ÿ

Will we answer the call?

ÿ

What will we encounter?

ÿ

What qualities will be required of us and
will we be ready and capable?

ÿ

What roles must we play and what
strategies can we have confidence in?

ÿ

With whom will we lead and follow?

ÿ

On what foundation can we rely to see
us through?

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.
The organizational and community journeys
of change in which we are involved join with
our personal and family changes to provide
the opportunities for us to grow and discover
our , become more whole, wiser, more resilient
and truly alive. The heroic journey provides the
guidance for us as individuals just as it does for
our organizations and communities. We just
have to say “yes” to the journeys.
The value of the heroic journey for leaders and
followers who are called to lead major change
is that it provides extraordinary guidance in
finding the answers
“The challenge
to these questions.
It provides guidance
will be to find
in both understandyour “call” or
ing what to expect
and why things hap- opportunity even
in the midst of
pen as they do on the
journey. It also prohaving been
vides a framework
thrown into
for planning what to
change.”
do as well as how to
respond to events as
they unfold.

WHY ME? IF NOT YOU, THEN WHO?
IF NOT NOW, THEN WHEN?
If you are reading this you are probably experiencing 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.

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THE POWER OF SAYING “YES”

2 You are finding that you have been “lured
into” a much bigger change than you at first
thought and the journey is appearing to be
of a much more challenging nature than anticipated. What may have looked like a small
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. 

be surprisingly similar. Regardless of the particular role, the heroic journey will fit. It will
provide a framework for understanding what
to expect on the journey as well as what to do
to successfully lead or follow.

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 journey 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 unanticipated, end up in crisis, or even be injured.
In some form a “blunder” occurs to begin the
necessary journey or change process.

THE LEADERSHIP PERFORMANCE
IMPERATIVE

The challenges presented us by our world keep
These are the four classic ways to begin a hechanging. What worked before in meeting
roic journey (a major change). The changes
those challenges often no longer works. Old
may be personal, family, group, orways must be left behind and new
ganizational or community in focus “The heroic is the
ways must be found. We must conor they may be a combination. The level to which we
sistently find new levels of perforstory follows the same pattern in
mance in our organizations or risk
need
to
go
to
find
each case and the key questions are
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
it?”
and courage to
and more rapid than in the past. This
successfully deal has always been true of our organi5 Your role or roles may also vary. At
as well as our communities.
times or in certain settings you may
with the amount zations
The degree of impermanence now,
be in a leadership role and at other
and rate of
however, is changing the game dratimes or in other settings you may
change we face” matically.
be in the role of a follower. Even in
the same change setting your role may shift
More people are called to lead (together). We
over time, although the qualities and characare being asked to perform at high levels in
teristics required for success in each role may

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THE POWER OF SAYING “YES” 

rapidly changing environments characterized
by shifting requirements. And we are usually
asked to do that in groups ranging from a single
team to extraordinarily complex organizations
or communities.

what to expect and what to do. We are left without the truth that would help us understand the
experience, choose how to deal with it, and become more complete human beings in the process.

Not only are the performance demands rising
for leaders, but more and more people are being called to lead. The challenges we face require increasingly sophisticated webs of leaders
and effective followers.

WHY THE HEROIC?
A COMPLETE AND TRUSTWORTHY
MAP FOR LEADERS

We are Cheated of the Heroic. The truth is that
the heroic journey is what’s required in cases
of major individual, group, organizational or
community change. Unfortunately, the truth is
usually not told. The complexity and difficulty
of change is undersold. People and what is required of them are underestimated and, in return, people underestimate themselves and the
challenges and opportunities they face. We are
thus cheated of the truth and cheated of our
possibilities.
The heroic is the level to which we need to go
to find sufficient strength, energy, wisdom, and
courage to successfully deal with the amount
and rate of change we face; socio-political
change, technological change, demographic
change, the globalization of the economy, environmental change, and the resulting corporate
and community changes.
It’s our world – our choice. Both the health of
the economy and the health of our social fabric (from local to world) are going to require a
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 required of us in change. The heroic journey must
be embraced not only individually, but also collectively and it must become the norm rather
than the exception.
We are, however, usually left with the impression that less will be sufficient. We are also left
to go forth without adequate guidelines about

What the heroic journey provides is a call to go
forth to do things worth doing, quests worth our
effort and sacrifice. It also provides guidance
about the path required, a path known by almost all cultures throughout history. It provides
guidance, a sense of hope and anticipation, asks
for our best and it is ennobling by its very nature. It also provides common ground for collective action even among people with very diverse backgrounds, styles, capabilities, gender,
race or ethnicity. The path is known and others
have gone before. The experience, however, is
different for each person and each challenge. It
is thus both universal and intensely personal.
The story of the heroic journey provides us with
the knowledge of what to expect as we go forth
as well as defining the leadership roles we need
to play and the strategies we need to execute. It
also naturally calls for our best in playing those
roles. It provides us with the foundation blocks
on which to base our leadership. It shows us
what to expect, what the experience is likely to
be for us as leaders as well as for those who will
follow us.

1

What We Can Expect –
The Realities of Change

ÿ

We can plan our journeys effectively.

ÿ

We can prepare people to be successful.

ÿ

We will rarely be surprised by events as
the journey unfolds and can respond

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THE POWER OF SAYING “YES”

quickly to unforeseen events and needs.

Our Significance.
The heroic naturally calls us to lead and
follow with a sense of our own purpose
and significance – not boasting, but
understanding that our actions make a
difference.

ÿ

Our Integrity.
The heroic also calls for us to lead and
follow with integrity. Integrity that can
have two definitions: either (a) matching
our actions and our words and beliefs or
(b) being whole, complete or unbroken.

ÿ

Beyond Self.
In playing these roles we need to look
beyond ourselves, particularly to the
mission and our followers. We need to be
willing to sacrifice for others - not being
reckless or self destructive, but from a
posture of seeing leadership as service,
not privilege.

We can act with confidence and sureness
because we can see how our actions
match the requirements of the journey.

ÿ

2

What We Can Do –
The Leadership Roles
There are six leadership roles to be
played (Visionary, Architect, Catalyst,
Guide, Builder and Integrator)

ÿ

ÿ

Each role has three core strategies.

ÿ

The Visionary and Architect roles are
played in the beginning (Act I of the
journey)

ÿ

The Catalyst, Guide, and Builder roles
are played on the path (Act II)

ÿ

The Integrator role is played in
completing the journey (Act II)

ÿ

These roles can be played by people at
any level – corporate, division,
department, team – and provide a
coherent common model around which
people can align.

3
ÿ

ÿ

ÿ 

Our Courage.
The leadership roles and strategies rely
on four forms of leadership courage – the
courage to:
ƒ See and speak the truth
ƒ Create and champion a clear and
specific vision of the desired future
ƒ Persevere and “hold the course”
ƒ Rely on others along the path

WHY THE HEROIC?
LIFE ENERGY AND ROLE MODELS

How We Can Do It –
How to Play the Roles

Leadership Webs.
In the heroic myths, heroes who go alone
fail. This is also true in corporate or
community change, which is why the
roles are played by an array of leaders
and leadership teams throughout the
organization. This leadership web
provides the reach, power and resilience
to complete the journey.

People in communities and organizations who
come alive through living heroically bring life
to the community or organization. That has
been one of the classic functions of the hero, to
reinvest the community with life energy or the
divine. For individuals whose life energy is restricted and bound up in living inauthentic lives,
healing and release can be triggered by those
living truly authentic lives, people living hero-

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THE POWER OF SAYING “YES”

ically and truly being the authors of their lives.
Heroes may also be founders or creators, perhaps of grand things or perhaps of small ones.
The challenge in either case is the same; to
leave the known and comfortable world and go
in search of the seed or germinal idea that can
produce that which is needed by the community
or organization. In
“People in
the classic journey it
communities and is a matter of finding
organizations
the source of life and
who come alive allowing the old to
die in order to be rethrough living
born to a richer fuller
heroically bring way of being.

life to the
community or
organization”

This is a more lyrical
description than normal for organizational and community change, but it is completely
applicable. And more lyricism would probably
result in better outcomes.
The effect of a successful heroic journey is the
unblocking and release of the flow of life or
creativity into the community or organization.
Even a journey that is disappointing in specific
outcomes can reinvigorate an organization or
community and bring it more fully alive.
Another critical function of heroes is to provide
images or models around which people in the
community or organization can come together. Heroes provide a “pulling together” force
to counter the increasing forces pulling people
apart.
People acting heroically serve as role models,
modeling the best of the group’s characteristics, ideals to be pursued, and demonstrating
that the heroic is for us and not just for mythical figures. The weaknesses, mistakes, failures,
and foibles of those acting heroically are often
as instructive as their strengths and successes
and also serve to make the heroic human and
accessible. 

WHY THE HEROIC?
THE VALUE FOR INDIVIDUALS
Adopting a heroic approach to life provides a
path or framework for exploring the basic challenges of major change, whether individual,
group, organizational or community. Such an
approach is powerful because it is ennobling
and implicitly asks for our best, whatever that
is at the time. This holds true for individuals
(or families) in the midst of a corporate or community change or for the authorship of an individual life.
Less than heroic dimin“People often
ishes the individual.
find too little
A less than heroic approach also asks too
of themselves
little of the individual. simply because
It does not dignify the
effort or give the mes- they don’t look
for enough”
sage that the individual can be ennobled
in the response. People often find too little of
themselves simply because they don’t look for
enough - the usual messages blind them to the
possibilities.
The heroic journey is about searching for and
manifesting our best even if we don’t know
what that might be until we stumble upon it. It
is about defining ourselves by how we relate to
external circumstances, the challenges we encounter (“What will I manifest today?”). It does
not provide specific answers, but provides a
way to pursue those answers, including a way
to understand events and experiences and to
organize responses.
The structure of the heroic journey can provide
not only the proper perspective on the depth of
the challenges, but also a framework for thinking about the experience, understanding what
to expect, and choosing how to respond. It also
challenges the individual to avoid or reject being
a victim, even of imposed change, and choose
instead to take as much responsibility and exercise as much influence as possible in shaping

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THE POWER OF SAYING “YES”

their experience. It is about refusing to be or
stay victimized.
The questions of life. As individuals we all face
a set of basic questions about our lives. We can
choose to answer or ignore them. The heroic
journey provides a setting for answering these
questions as well as living out the answers. It
is always about what kind of a life are we going to create. Contemplating these questions
is kind of like looking at the sun. You can’t do
it for long and it’s often best to look indirectly
– you can clearly see the sun but don’t get overwhelmed.

? 

ÿ

Who am I?

ÿ

How should I lead my life?

ÿ

What is the nature of the universe and
what is my place in it?

ÿ

What is my reason for being – my purpose
in life?

ÿ

What are my gifts and how do I bring
them to my family, organizations or
communities?

The path is known. Throughout history in virtually every culture heroes have left known
worlds to venture into the unknown, face trials,
discover truths and revelations, experience various 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
provide.

RECLAIMING OUR HEROISM
“WHO ME?” “YES, YOU.”
Note: Sometimes a heroic journey
is about simple survival or getting
by. Other times it allows more direct
attention to these questions. Every
journey, however, will provide more
answers and lead to more maturity
and wholeness – even the journeys
that don’t bring the some of the outcomes that are desired.

We are not strangers to the heroic journey, although it may seem strange to hear
that. The life of each individual is
“The life of each
individual is made made up of many small (and sometimes some very large) heroic jourup of many small neys, each testing and developing us
(and sometimes
in different ways. Throughout our
some very large) lives we are called at various times
to go forth and do something of sigheroic journeys,
nificance that requires major change
each testing and of us.

developing us in
different ways”

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At other times we are thrown into
journeys of change that we do not

THE POWER OF SAYING “YES”

choose. We may also be lured into journeys that
turn out to be much more challenging than we
could have anticipated. At still other times we
may blunder into a journey of change, making
some mistake or failing at something that opens
surprising doors.
1 In our organizations we are called, and very
often thrown, into major changes that fall into
an impressive array of categories. Changes
include starting organizations, going through
rapid growth, downsizing or ending the life of
organizations, merging with other organizations (including by acquiring them or being
acquired), and separating from organizations.
The heroic journey can mean facing changes
in strategy, structure, roles, systems and technologies, work processes, skills and competencies required, standards and expectations,
the nature of key relationships, career paths,
and even values and beliefs.
There are lots of people in a variety of roles
for whom the heroic journey has particular
importance. They may in leadership roles, follower roles or, most likely, in both roles. For
instance:
ÿ

Executives senior managers

ÿ

Middle managers and supervisors likely
to be “caught in the middle” of a change

ÿ

Management teams

ÿ

Project teams

ÿ

Change managers

ÿ

Change teams

ÿ

And individuals in any position that may
be significantly affected by a change

2 In our communities we are called to make a
difference in an extraordinary range of issues.
For instance, we may be called to make a difference in our educational system, the way we 

govern ourselves, how we develop our youth,
or how we maintain the health and well-being
of the people in our communities. We may
also be called to deal with issues of safety, justice, economic health, neighborhood development, combating racism and other “isms”, or
caring for the environment.
As the definition of “community” gets larger,
the issues become increasingly complex and
difficult, for instance the peaceful coexistence
among nations and groups and the development of a sustainable global economy.
There are many possible positions in communities that will call an individual to lead a
heroic journey. Some of the natural positions
are listed below.
ÿ

People in positions of leadership within
government

ÿ

People in positions of leadership in
community organizations

ÿ

People who see a need and take action to
change something or create something

ÿ

People involved in changes in service
provision that ends the identity or life of
organizations, associations, “ways of
doing things”, etc.

ÿ

People taking an activist role when
having no history of doing so

ÿ

People confronting the norm(s) of a
group or community

Each of these roles could be expanded and
made much more specific, but these will serve
the purpose of illustration. They can range
from local in scale to global. It will be evident
that some of these roles or positions are formal leadership roles and some are not. They
all require the traversing of a heroic journey,
sometimes in highly visible ways and sometimes in almost anonymous fashion.

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THE POWER OF SAYING “YES”

3 Leadership fatigue. As with most aspects of
major change, nothing is as simple as it looks.
Many people will look at the previous examples and say, “Yes, but I’m not only in one
of those roles, I’m in four of those roles.” It
is safe to expect a good deal of role overlap,
which is an increasingly common situation.
Leadership fatigue can set in if a person is in
too many leadership roles for an extended period of time. This is another reason to focus
on creating webs of leaders and followers,
so that the responsibility can be shared more
broadly.

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world, although some or many of the learnings
may have been bittersweet.
Those challenges may have been solely personal or may have played out in family, work, social, or community settings. In many cases they
probably overlapped several of these settings.
At other times in our lives we were not heroic.
Confronted by opportunities or major change
we did not respond by saying “yes” to the heroic journey. We may have refused the opportunity 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, despair, 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.

SOMETIMES HEROIC
AND SOMETIMES NOT
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 challenges and responded in such a way that we
went forth from our
“We are not talk- known worlds or
ing about being comfort zones into
unknown territory,
a grand hero,
were tested, saw cerlike the ‘larger tain aspects of our
than life’ figures lives end and new
portrayed in the ones begin, and thus
came away significlassic myths”
cantly changed. We
also came away more mature and more whole
and with more to contribute, more to offer the

Many of us have led changes where we have
called others to follow or thrown them into a
journey. In some of those situations we have
probably followed our own heroic journey and
been able to guide others through the collective
journey, whether organizational or community.
In other changes we probably did not choose
to follow the heroic pattern and, consequently,
could not truly guide others along the path.
Our experience as followers has probably been
similar. At times we have responded to a call or
chosen the heroic path even when thrown into

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THE POWER OF SAYING “YES”

the journey. We have actively supported (and
possibly challenged) those in leadership roles,
challenged and supported other followers, and
managed our own journey. At other times we
have also refused the call to go forth or perhaps
chosen to be more victim than author when
thrown or blundering into journeys.
Few, if any, of us can honestly say that we have
always lived heroically in our personal lives or
that we have always led collective change heroically. The truth is probably that we have varied,
perhaps radically, in our approach to change,
whether in managing our own personal change,
following others, or leading others.

THE HEROIC JOURNEY
Remember. We are not talking about being a
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 talking about the “little
“It is about
h” or daily heroism
that is required and
becoming
we have some very
increasingly
powerful guides that
competent,
we can follow.

mature, wise,
resilient, and able
to meet the shifting challenges of
the world.”

The heroic journey
is the story of the
change or growth
process in its healthiest form. It is about
becoming increasingly competent, mature, wise, resilient, and
able to meet the shifting challenges of the world.
Almost all cultures have their own versions of
the heroic journey to educate their members
about what’s required for the health of the community as well as individuals.
The Rewards. The rewards are many. In addition to increased competencies, wisdom, resilience and confidence, those following the path
of the heroic journey serve as models for their
groups and infuse those groups with life energy. Groups and communities become stronger

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and better prepared for the next journey. Even
when journeys aren’t completely successful,
most of the rewards can still be realized to a
large degree.
The Tests. The heroic journey is a time of endings and beginnings and of the difficult terrain
in between (“inbetweenity”). We may find that
our tests are physical, intellectual, emotional, or
spiritual and that our changes are, consequently, in one or more of those areas. Different journeys pose different challenges and opportunities.
Some of the tests will be dealing with mistakes
and failures; avoiding the seductive lure of taking the easy way out; dealing with uncertainty,
doubt, and perhaps despair; and finding sources
of energy and renewal along the way.

Heroes Don’t Go Alone. Few (if any) people
who cross the threshold have to face the trials
and tests alone, although the heroic journey is
ultimately an individual one. On almost all journeys there are helpers of various sorts who can
provide direction, tools, challenge, encouragement, and coaching in coping in the new environment.
If alert, we may find companions with whom we
can travel for parts of our journey. Other characters—tricksters, jokers, allies, enemies, opponents, and such—may also be encountered.

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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
The heroic journey plays out in three distinct
acts. Each act comes with its own challenges
and opportunities.
Act I – Beginnings. The classic heroic journey
begins with the crossing of a threshold, leaving
a known world or comfort zone. We may “heed
a call,” be thrown into the journey, be lured in,
or blunder in. The first challenge is getting past
the “guardians of the threshold.” The guardians are inner doubts or external forces that try
to turn us back right at the beginning. They are
the first test.

Act II - On the Path. When we do cross the
threshold and move through the land that lies
on the other side we are faced with tests and
trials that usually require new or altered ways
of perceiving, thinking, relating and acting. For
our organizations and communities we also
see changes in structure, processes, roles,
technologies and even strategies for competing for life or position. What worked before
needs to be honored, but may no longer be
effective and may even be counter-productive
or dangerous.

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Act III – Completions. For those who successfully meet the challenges of the journey the
final phase is some form of return or completion. We “return” with the gifts that we have
discovered, whether new knowledge or truths,
new abilities, new “ways” or technologies, or
new opportunities.
The hero’s return may be the most difficult
part of all. The heroic individual or group will
be changed and that will require changes in
others, for it will change the nature of relationships and alignments of various kinds. Those
changes can ripple out in many directions and
for long distances. The gifts of the hero can
easily threaten the status quo. Again, this is
as relevant for communities and organizations
as it is for individuals. Heroic individuals or
groups must approach the completion of a
journey with their eyes open.

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WARNING! BARRIERS
TO ACCEPTING THE
HEROIC CHALLENGE
We have lost sight of the fact that the heroic
journey is “our story” as human beings. The
relevance of heroism for most people, their ability to see themselves as heroic in any significant
way, has been severely limited by how it has
been portrayed in myths, stories, and the popular media.
There are three common portrayals of the heroic journey that have been particularly limiting:

1
2
3

Larger than Life Portrayals. Seeing the heroic as the grand event or achievement or
as restricted to larger than life figures.
“Aw Shucks.” The “Aw Shucks” phenomenon and the individual’s collusion with the
group to diminish the heroic
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.

#

1

BARRIER

The “Larger than Life” Portrayal
of the Heroic

Real heroes are not the gods and demigods of mythology. The adventures of
those figures are told in larger than life
scale because it makes for a better story.

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It makes for a better story around the campfire and it certainly sells more books and
movie tickets.
But the story of the heroic journey is really
our story. The gods, demigods, and action
heroes, are “us”. The heroic journey is a
challenge before all of us, though not all of
us will answer the call or respond heroically
when thrown into a journey. “Their” journeys may be grand and public, while most
(but not all) of “our” journeys will be smaller and quieter and less public. The story,
however, will have the same form.
Part of the necessary challenge of reclaiming the heroic journey as our story is overcoming this “larger than life” telling of the
story, our own discomfort with living heroically, and the skeptical responses of others.
Our challenge is to make the heroic much
more common in accepting it ourselves and
encouraging others to go with us on the
journey.

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BARRIER

The “Aw Shucks” Phenomenon

lenge. When challenged, this “aw, shucks
it couldn’t be me” approach to heroism
appears to be less of an indication of humility than it is a way to avoid taking the
journey, of directly taking responsibility
for heeding or ignoring the call. There is,
however, the legitimate danger of others
seeing our stance of trying to live heroically
as self-glorification or “being better than”.
Their responses of “who do you think you
are?” or “you’re no hero” can reinforce our
own uneasiness with being heroic and can
undermine the journey even at the beginning. It is often hard to remember that such
responses are reflections of others’ discomfort with the prospect of the heroic journey
and the implicit challenge of our own heroic
journeys.
Colluding With Others to Avoid the Heroic
The barrier of the individual “aw shucks”
response is magnified by the collusion
between society and individuals. In that
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 creativity, power, and effectiveness.

This is the deceptively effective barrier.
“Aw shucks, I’m not heroic” has been a
common reaction of people when asked to
apply the concepts of heroism to their own
lives. Many people have a great deal of
trouble seeing the heroic elements of their
lives.

What society gets out of this collusion is
that institutions and systems - the status
quo - are not threatened by many people
acting creatively and powerfully, taking
risks, and bringing about change. Change
may be required for the health of the institution or community, but there is always
resistance to those trying to bring it about.

There is a “scarcity theory” in regard to
heroism, which says that we can only have
a few heroes because heroism isn’t for
everyone. Heroism, however, is a challenge
that is open to everyone even if many people frequently do not accept the challenge.
There are far more heroes in every organization and community than we credit.

What individuals get out of this collusion
is the avoidance of taking full responsibility for their lives and their choices. This
does not mean that individuals don’t have
the impulse to follow the heroic path to
full maturity and wholeness – just that human nature comes with this first test to be
passed on the heroic journey.

Hiding From the Heroic Challenge
“Aw shucks is a way to hide from the chal-

One counter to this collusion is a question
asked in different traditions in different

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THE POWER OF SAYING “YES”

ways, but is essentially, “If not me/us, then
who and if not now, then when?”
Remember
ÿ

The heroic myths are grand and our own
heroism is mostly, though not always,
lived out in our daily lives and seems
unremarkable in comparison.

ÿ

The heroic myths tell about occasional
journeys and our own journeys are
surprisingly frequent and even
overlapping at times.

ÿ

Most of the heroic figures in the myths
are larger than life whereas we, with
some exceptions, are ordinary people
doing what we need to do to make a
difference.

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3

BARRIER

The Exclusion of Women
and the Feminine

The traditional telling of the heroic journey is from an overwhelmingly masculine
perspective. In the traditional telling heroes
go forth aggressively to conquer, to kill, to
rescue, to fight, to defeat, to dominate. In
short they go forth to have power over others. This makes for exciting stories, but it
obscures not only the feminine aspects of
life, but also the real purpose and message
of the heroic journey.
Men are Affected Also.
This phenomenon not only tends to exclude
women, but also tells men that qualities
that are seen as primarily feminine are not
for them and are not to be included in their
heroic quest. This simply makes no sense
for a journey that is about the search for
wholeness and integration and completeness.
The Increasing Need for Feminine Qualities

The exclusion of the feminine in portrayals
of the heroic is increasingly dysfunctional in
a world that more and more requires qualities that are traditionally seen as feminine.
It can be argued that previous environments required characteristics of heroes
that were more masculine, for instance
direct, aggressive, often violent action that
was individually focused.
Today’s environment, however, clearly
requires new characteristics and an integration of traditionally feminine and masculine
traits. There is a growing need for this integration of qualities and competencies that
are usually considered to be more feminine,
for instance the ability to form and maintain
relationships and to act in a collective manner, being open and receptive, or the ability to quietly persevere with patience and
determination.
Another set of qualities and competencies
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
emotional lives of others is yet a third set of
characteristics that needs to be integrated
into how we look at heroism.
It’s About Wholeness
Kathleen Noble, in The Sound of a Silver
Horn, also addresses questions of differences and similarities. In a chapter titled
“Toward a New Mythology of Heroism”
she confronts the need for wholeness or
completion from the standpoint of the
female hero. Not surprisingly, this attention
to integration or fusion is just as applicable
for men.
“...she must fuse the best attributes of
femininity and masculinity and so create
a new archetype of heroism that speaks to
both women and men. This fusion would
make her: independent without being
alienated; courageous without being
contemptuous of the weak; powerful

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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 androgynous 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
traditional and more masculine heroic pattern is the one that is required. In many,
and an increasing number of cases, however, the traditionally masculine model alone
is just not what is required. It is simply not
adequate.

The Heroic Challenge for Followers
For followers the challenge is to take full personal responsibility for their actions and choices, understanding and accepting the impact of
those choices and actions on others, including
those leading. This is a natural consequence of
being part of the required web of leaders and
followers. The responsibility naturally follows
the significance of the role.

For both leaders and followers the heroic challenge is a dual one: conducting their own internal journeys as well as playing their part
in the journey of the group. Both leaders and
followers are inherently challenged to manage
themselves in order to play effective roles in the
leadership web.

The challenge for followers includes such tests
as accepting and facilitating empowerment, becoming partners with others in the web of leaders and followers, taking considered risks, making the leap of faith to trust and the effort and
commitment to be trustworthy, and to exert the
extra effort required. The tests also include being honest and forthcoming in communicating
outward and in providing feedback, providing
support and guidance and care to others as well
as taking care of oneself. Part of the authorship
and partnership is in sharing in the shaping and
championing of the purpose and design of the
organization and being willing to wisely sacrifice for the greater good.

The Heroic Challenge for Leaders
For those of us leading a major change the challenge is to be worthy of followers; their belief,
hope, trust, personal investment and effort, their
sacrifice, and the risks they take regarding job,
career, family, and place in the world.

For both leaders and followers a profoundly important aspect of the heroic challenge is the ability to act from three sources of power: a sense
of significance, a sense of integrity and the willingness to look beyond ourselves and sacrifice
when necessary for the others.

THE HEROIC
CHALLENGE

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The same principles and concepts can be applied to groups, organizations, and communities as they discover who they are and strive
to match their behaviors and cultures with that
understanding.
The basic reality of the heroic journey and its
function for people, both individually and collectively, 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.

Honoring Our Significance
It is much easier to meet the heroic challenge for
leaders or for followers, easier to find our best,
if we have a sense of significance. This does
not mean self-glorification or hubris, but rather
an honest sense of our gifts and the difference
we make. When we understand the value that
we add, it gives meaning to our actions. It also
highlights the consequences of our actions or
our lack of action. We are then challenged to
honor our significance through our behavior. It
is our gift and it naturally makes demands on
us.
Acting with Integrity
People have often asked, “Isn’t the heroic journey really about integrity?” The answer is
“yes.” The heroic journey is about deepening
self knowledge, discovering our purpose and
the different aspects of ourselves and integrating those parts, becoming whole. That happens
as we discover who we are and match our behavior to that understanding. It happens over
the course of multiple journeys, the spiral of
journeys that we experience in a life. The benefits of previous journeys are brought to the next
journey as we create our life.

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
and wrong. (p. 7)
Looking “Beyond Self”
There is a moral aspect to the heroic journey
and that centers on the willingness and ability
of the leader to think beyond themselves, to be
willing to sacrifice for others or for principles.
This is the difference between heroes and pirates, adventurers or terrorists. They may all
have courage, be willing to take risks, be talented, learn from experience, have vision, and be
successful, but they are not the same.
Heroism will inevitable involve sacrifice. Sacrifice can be defined as giving up something for
something of greater value. In a way sacrifice
is like net profit. It requires a cost, but results
in more benefits. It differs from loss in that loss
may simply be the giving up of something. The
hero’s sacrifices and acts have traditionally reinvigorated the community, re-infusing the divine
or life energy.

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THE FOUR FORMS OF
COURAGE REQUIRED
OF HEROIC LEADERS
“Courage is rightly esteemed the first
of human qualities because it is the
quality which guarantees all others.”
Winston Churchill
In leading heroic journeys there are four forms
of courage upon which leaders can draw. These
forms of courage are both challenging and
sources of great power. They are natural challenges in leading journeys of change and cannot
really be avoided without significant damage to
leadership credibility. At the same time, when
leaders accept the challenge and draw on these
sources of power, journeys are usually successful.

act, anger at a situation or group, feeling powerless or effective or alone in the face of issues,
being afraid of how others might respond, etc.
Speaking the truth makes a person or group visible 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
and truth-tellers are often not welcome.
Seeing and speaking the truth also has some
extraordinary benefits, but they are not realized
unless sufficient courage is present. Those benefits can include feeling “authentic” rather than
living a lie, increased vitality due to acting and
living consciously and not needing to be depressed to avoid seeing the truth, etc.
There are risks, there are dangers and there are
costs to pay. But there are extraordinary rewards to be gained and there are, in many cases, far higher risks for not finding the courage to
see and speak the truth.

Courage is the quality or characteristic that is
most often called upon in major journeys of
change. Courage comes from Latin and French
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 willingness 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.

1

THE COURAGE TO SEE AND
SPEAK THE TRUTH

Seeing the truth can result in some very uncomfortable feelings, including feeling the need to

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“Life shrinks or expands in
proportion to one’s courage.”
Anais Nin

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2

THE COURAGE TO
CREATE AND HOLD FORTH
A “VISION OF THE DESIRED
STATE”

This sounds easy, but it is not. Creating a vision of the desired state requires stating what
is desired and, therefore, what is not desired. It
involves making choices and commitments and
saying “yes” to some things and “no” to many
things. Many of those choices will be confusing, involve many points of views, lack sufficient data to point to a clear answer, and touch
on values, preferences, and beliefs that may be
extremely important to people.
Creating a vision of a desired state also implies
change from “current reality” and, therefore,the
inevitable endings/losses, fears, uncertainties,
and doubts of the change process. It also shows
the gap between current reality and the desired
state and that gap is often very difficult to live
with.

the commitment to it, which can be painful when
progress is not being made or the transition effort fails.

“Heroism is not just about
finding a new truth, but
also having the courage to
act on that vision”
Carol Pearson,
Awakening the Heroes Within

3

THE COURAGE TO
PERSEVERE AND “HOLD
THE COURSE”

Getting from current reality to the desired reality at the end of a journey is usually a relatively
long process and one that never goes smoothly.
It is messy at times, is full of uncertainty and
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 accountable for, states what an individual, group, organization, or community stands for, and deepens

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It is often impossible to know exactly what is
going on, exactly what to do about it, and what
the consequences are going to be. “The unknown” is a frequent companion. Often the
only thing that leaders of change can hang onto
is the courage to persevere, to keep putting one
foot in front of the other, to refuse quit, and to
keep finding ways to reorient and renew the effort (and themselves).

“Courage is more exhilarating
than fear and in the long run it
is easier. We do not have to become heroes
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.”

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right understandings and the right skills. But
the key is the courage to invest in and rely on
others to really make a difference.
This is not a new or trendy truth. Heroes have
never gone alone and been successful in the
myths, nor do leaders go alone in corporate
or community change and achieve sustainable
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
support, others or we simply won’t have the
reach and the power and the resilience to sustain the effort.

Eleanor Roosevelt

4

THE COURAGE TO
COLLABORATE WITH, AND
RELY ON, OTHERS

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, exercise 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 matters are on the line. Because of the potential consequences, positive and negative, the courage
to make the leap of faith to trust and collaborate
with others must be joined with the skill to collaborate effectively – or courage easily becomes
foolishness. A lot of us have had disappointing
experiences with collaborative efforts and know
that we need to have the right partners with the

LOSING HEART
Heroes, however, do not leave known worlds,
travel the “trail of tests”, and reach
completion without at times losing their courage. It
just isn’t human. This is one of the reasons why
heroes do not go alone. Sometimes courage is
recovered without help, but often it is the intervention, support or belief of others that enables

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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

ANSWERING
THE CALL
SAYING “YES”
The heroic is being asked of us by our organizations 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
call.

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