Who Is The Hero?

I heard or read somewhere that people are capable of rising to a higher standard unless a lower one is offered. In 1949, mythologist Joseph Campbell published The Hero With a Thousand Faces outlining his “monomyth.” Ironically, that same year, Christopher Vogler was born. In 1998, he would create The Hero’s Journey as a simplified version of the monomyth that has become the de facto standard description for this journey.

Vogler’s Hero’s Journey consists of twelve steps in three stages – the Departure, the Initiation, and the Return. In the Departure, the hero leaves their ordinary world on a quest. During the Initiation, the hero faces trials and tribulations before earning a reward. At the Return, the hero returns to the ordinary world changed in some way by their journey.

All kinds of stories follow this narrative structure – from ancient mythology to The Lord of the Rings and Finding Nemo. Because literature and movies are often a reflection of the common realities we all tend to experience, the Hero’s Journey can occur in major and minor ways in our daily lives.

In the Departure, something happens to disrupt the status quo and requires the Hero to deal with a problem or challenge. It is not unusual for the Hero to be unable or unwilling to lean into this new expectation until they find a mentor who aids them in preparing for and accepting the challenge.

In the Initiation, the Hero commits to the challenge only to be beset by difficulties and even enemies. Gratefully, the Hero often also finds allies who will agree to participate in the challenge, and together they face and eventually overcome the problem. This results in a rewarding experience that can include actual physical things or more abstract things like knowledge.

As the Hero Returns, getting back to the ordinary world can present its own set of challenges, and sometimes the previously defeated enemies can reemerge and make yet another attempt to derail the Hero. Ultimately, the Hero does return, and their experience and reward improves the ordinary world and all those who share it.

Think about all the challenges you have faced as a leader. Remember the reluctance you felt to lean into something you knew would be difficult and painful and the person (or people) who gave you the encouragement and support you needed to jump. Now ask yourself who on your team could you encourage to accept a challenge they need to face?

Think about all the battles you have fought and recall the people who came alongside you and fought for you. Remember the fear you felt as you faced enemies (real or imagined) and the sense of courage you received from those who stood with, believed in you, and added their sword to yours. Who do you know that could use an ally?

Finally, think about how it has felt when you have been able to overcome the obstacles and accomplish a difficult yet rewarding task. Recall that sense of accomplishment, the realization that you were more capable than you had imagined, and the deep gratitude you felt for those who were on the journey with you. How could you help others on your team have that experience, thereby giving your team the benefit of that person’s experience and the improvement it will bring?

Sometimes, raising the standard means challenging people to overcome their fears and accept the challenge. There are plenty of challenges to face and enough enemies to go around, but there are not always enough mentors and allies. When you find yourself thinking, “It would be easier if I just did this myself,” remember that great leaders help other people find their journey and their inner hero. They make sure other people on their team get to become the hero.

In a healthy community, there is room for many heroes. Great leaders have plenty of their own hero journeys (and will most likely accumulate many more).  They are comfortable stepping aside and letting others benefit from taking the journey themselves, content to be mentor and ally in someone else’s story. Giving others a chance to be the hero is what real heroes do, and it is The Bison Way.