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Episode 009 BUSINESS – The Hero’s Journey Storyline: A strategy tool for leaders

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Team leaders, life coaches, team coaches, parents, teachers, strategy planners, anyone who needs to get people on the same page working toward the completion of a project – today’s podcast is especially for you. Episode 003 was our first episode for leaders, teaching you how to use story as a tool for defining origin, values, and vision. This is our second episode, especially for leaders. Stay tuned for a breakdown of the archetypes within the Heroes Journey and how you can use them to make perfect sense of where and how you need your team, family or group to move toward your final goal. In other words….leadership using the oldest and most reliable tool – story.

When you are a leader you know how challenging it can to lead a group of individuals toward a goal. There are different ideas, personalities, viewpoints, skills, and agendas. Not everyone has the skill to lead, but those who do, and do it effectively, know that it takes skill, judgment, patience, planning, and tools. Today I’ll open the story toolbox and put a new tool in your hot little hands.

Where do you need or want your team to go? Decide that first…then it needs to be communicated to your team. Along with this information you need to show them what to expect, what they will be up against, what it will take to get there, and why they want to embark on this in the first place. This is how it’s done. Get out your notepad, you’ll want to take notes.

Today I’m going to breakdown the hero’s journey into six parts. These six parts, when taken separately, allow you to use the archetypes within the typical hero’s journey to build an effective and exciting leadership approach for your next big undertaking. It will allow you, as the one leading others to the end of the rainbow, to help your team, group or family get excited about what’s ahead, understand the goals they are striving for, breakdown tasks and develop strategies for success, pinpoint the obstacle or dragon to be overcome, and get excited about the reward at the end of the accomplishment. Let’s jump right into these six parts and how to use them.

First, any good adventure starts out with an invitation. This is the Call to Adventure.

The Call to Adventure: In Star Wars Princess Leah sent out her invitation, or call for help, through a hologram in R2D2. In the Hobbit, Gandolf extends the invitation to Bilbo through a visit to his front door. In Harry Potter, Harry receives a written invitation from Hogwarts. In the Hunger Games, the Capital holds the reaping. The call to adventure is big, real, and those involved know an adventure is beginning. This is the place to start – a clear, bold invite onto the path of your adventure toward self-improvement, a family vacation, a service project, getting a new sales account, beating out the competition, taking state with your school team. Whatever adventure you and your team are starting out on, it starts with a call to action. Make it fun, make it clear, make it bold.

The second part of the hero’s journey is an explanation of The World we are In: Once you’ve invited your team members to place their feet on the rocky path of adventure, you, as the leader, must then ground your team in their starting point – the world as it is now. Talk about the current reality and what needs to change. Are the hungry in your community suffering and you want your youth group to help hand out burritos to the homeless? Has the high school across the valley held the state title for too many years? Is it far past time to change the company’s image of being environmentally insensitive? Let’s start with a look at the way things are NOW. The realities of the world we stand in today, and why that’s not okay anymore.

The third part of the hero’s journey is  The Hero enters the scene. Who is going to save us? We’ve discussed the problem to be solved – there’s been a call to action. We know the state of the status quo. Who can we turn to in order to overcome this dark and dreary space? To fight the dragon? To free the archetypical maiden? To save Middle Earth? Well – you are! Your team is the hero. This is where you discuss how to extract your greatest strengths, how to stack your team for a win, how to minimize and overcome weaknesses and capitalize on your assets. This is where your team gets to feel the urgency, the power within them, the excitement of what they can do! This is where we do the chest pounding and the bragging. This is where you help them see the heroes they really are and the heroes they can be.

Enter The Bad Guy: What stands between your team and the better world you are after? Is it the competition? Is it old ways of thinking? Is it laziness? Is it not sharing the same vision? Is it bad habits? Is it Sauron? The Orks? The Dark Side? Voldemort? The Capital? Donald Trump? Discussing the obstacle or obstacles to be overcome is part of the process. What are we up against? Let’s say the name out loud, narrow our gaze, and find the weaknesses in the armor that we can exploit to overcome the antagonist. Without this fourth part of the hero’s journey, there’s no guarantee that everyone knows who the bad guy is, what you’re trying to overcome. Talk about what stands between you and the prize. Discuss approaches for overcoming the menace. Name the opponent loud and clear.

The fifth and most in-depth portion of the hero’s journey is The Journey itself: It’s a good idea to talk up front about the journey you will all take together. The expected ups and downs, the long days on the path in the hot sun, the cold nights on the mountain ledge, the joyful moments around the campfire or moments in front of the sunrise. While it’s not a good idea to preach too much gloom and doom, it is a good idea to acknowledge that journeys push you, test you, and try you. It’s okay to know there’s a good chance there may be moments of breakdown – but these can lead to breakthrough. Here’s the space to discuss plans, and the strategy you want to implement as you step out onto the trail of your adventure. This is the place where you discuss the mountains you get to prepare to cross, the battles you see yourselves stepping up to fight, and the approach you want to take in attitude and energy. “Today we will step onto the path, each with their assignment to do X, each with a new attitude and heart about Y. Our motto is Z and we will cross our first bridge next Tuesday.”

The last and final step in helping your team strategize is The Better World: So when you get to the top of Mount Doom and throw in the ring, then what? When the Capital has fallen who takes over leadership? What happens after the Death Star blows up? This is the better world you and your team are working for. What is the real life equivalent? Is it the new account you want to land and all the rewards and promotions that will come along with it? Is it the championship medal around your neck? Is it a closer family spending time and creating memories? Is it a dream realized? A job landed? A million dollars made? A new community event created? This is the part where you get to show, not tell the team what lies in store after the perseverance through the swamps of the journey, what they get when they break through the breakdowns. This is the carrot dangling at the end of the stick! This is where we talk about why we are headed out on this journey in the first place. This is what they will think back on during the hard times, so make it clear and exciting.

It’s a simple idea when it’s all broken down. Its power comes in the vision setting, the strategy, getting everyone on the same page without pulling punches! When we watch movies or read stories it’s pretty normal to put ourselves in the role of the main characters. It’s why we cry or feel melancholy when sad things happen in a story because we are automatically experiencing vicariously what the characters are going through. Getting to approach a potentially difficult project with the ideas of the hero’s journey fueling your perception of the challenge, really isn’t all that far-fetched. It may even be a shot in the arm instead of the usual boring approaches that perhaps haven’t worked so well in the past. Whether you actually tell your team how you are mimicking the hero’s journey is up to you, but following the same pattern still works, even if you don’t tell them what you’re doing.

Let me share an example of what this might look like in action. I’m going to have fun with this approach and play it up. Again, you can present it to your team in any way that works for you. This is just an example.

Today there is a real estate team meeting. It’s the end of December and time for their annual planning meeting for the coming year. Each team member strolls in, joking a little with one another, and take their seats around the table waiting for the team leader to start.

But it’s not the usual beginning everyone is expecting. Instead, the team leader passes a sealed envelope to each person around the table. The letter reads as follows:

Dear Insert Name,

As you know 2016 was a strong year for our team, but we came in third place in sales missing our mark by $5M in gross sales. This year, 2017, is going to be different. We need 10 additional clients this year with an average home sale price of $500,000 and we have 12 months to do it. You have been called to take this journey, as a team, into the lime-light of the top sales team in the Helter Skelter Board of Realtors. Do you accept?

As they finish their letters the team leader starts a video. As the video fills the screen with music, information on the current lending climate, current interest rate trends, the real estate projections for 2017 and the strengths of the buyer’s market they will be experiencing in the coming year flood the room. As the video concludes the team leader looks at each one of them. “You!” he says as his fist comes down on the table, “You are the men and women who are going to make this happen.” Music swells in the background as the video transitions into superhero music. “Our team is one of the strongest sales teams to work in this market. We have a buyer specialist (he points at Jean). We have two listing specialists (he points at Tyler and Stacy). We have our marketing specialists and Tim, who keeps us all organized and the paperwork filed. We are a fine-oiled machine. YOU are the heroes stepping out to set records and bring home awards. We provide top client service and are trained with everything we need to walk away with top sales team this time next year.

He mutes the music and his tone changes…”Last year,” he starts off, “Sweeden and Blakely took top sales team. They’ve got nothing on us, but they are lean and mean and hungry. If we’re going to out sell them we’re going to have to step up our follow-up game, take customer service to the next level, and I think we should put some focus into grooming referrals. What are your thoughts?

When the group has finished talking about the ways to out-pace the competition, the discussion changes to the Journey. The team leader talks about the potential ups and downs, the check-in schedules, how to overcome hard days, and what role each will play moving forward. They plan milestones and meetings. Set up stretches.

When they are clear on their strategy for the year the team leader asks them to close their eyes and envision the glass winners plaque sitting over their desk. He walks them through the things they can buy with the extra commissions earned, and equally important, he helps them visualize the relationships they will build with clients old and new as they improve their levels of service. He finishes off on an exciting and fun tone that guides them to a vision and celebration of what they are going to get, where they are going to be, and the feelings involved with those rewards. Before they have finished the vision is clear in their minds and they can see and feel the success.

Unbeknownst to the team, the team leader has just taken them on the hero’s journey. For you and the group you lead, this approach can look however will best serve your team. Play it up, play it down. Call it the Hero’s Journey or never let on that you’re following a pattern. You get to make it work for you and your situation.

When a person is in charge of taking a group of people from point A to point B there are a few things that are crucial to the process. Helping those people to get the vision of what they are working for, getting them on board and excited, empowering them in their roles, helping them to know what needs to be accomplished and either letting them know how it gets to be done or using the team expertise to determine how it gets to be done, and then getting excited about the rewards that can be gained from their efforts. The hero’s journey archetypes set a perfect pattern for being able to lead and achieve these goals.

As you implement this tool into your leadership I’d love to hear about your stories of how this works for your team, family or whomever you are leading, and what you learn in the process. Please share your stories with me by going to www.loveyourstorypodcast.com and going to the Contact Us page and sending me a note. If you are interested in learning more leadership tools through the use of story, drop me a line also.

Thanks to Circle of the 9 Muses by David Hutchens for some of these great ideas.

About the author, Lori

Author of four books and over 100 magazine and newspaper articles, Lori found a fascination with the personal narrative during her master's degree research in Folklore at Utah State University. Coming to understand the nuance and power of story, the automatic but unrecognized uses, the cultural curtains that story pulls back for us to peak behind, she let her excitement spill over into her own journey of personal empowerment and the excitement of sharing it all with others.

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