“What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.”
There is great power in metaphors, analogies, and stories…ways of communicating that move deeply inside of us, rather than just firing neurons in our brains. One of the greatest teachers of this message was Joseph Campbell.
There are several important things that I have learned about change journeys from Campbell over the years; in this post I share a few of those lessons with you.
If you look at the T.S. Eliot quote above, the message is really quite simple… New things come out of the old. Some thing or things have to end for others to begin. Starting a transformational journey, whether at the personal, organizational, or even the societal level, means letting go of something that has served as an anchor in the past. Beginnings can’t happen without endings.
Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey provides a powerfully wise road map to what your transformational journey is (and/or will be) like.
First, it is important to know that there are really two journeys needed if you are to achieve your desired outcomes. There is the outer journey: the new facilities, the new strategy, the new technology, the new processes, the new products, the new comp plan; you get the idea. (At the individual level, it may be the new career choice, the new relationship, the new home, etc.) But, there is also the inner journey: the new way of thinking about customers, or products, or line workers, or peers; the new way of seeing yourself and your role in relation to others; and, there are new ways of behaving as a result of the new ways of thinking.
The hero cannot make the journey successfully to the end without addressing both the inner and the outer.
The next important lesson that Campbell offers is the answer to the question, Who is the hero?
As someone who has been a change practitioner all of his life, the unfortunate truth is that all too often those in this profession (change agents, mentors, trusted advisers, counselors, therapists, etc.) see ourselves as the heroes. We are not. We are simply the guides. We may do our jobs well, or poorly. We may offer exquisite guidance and profound insights, or we may mislead those who are taking the journey. We may walk alongside them, or serve as Sherpas carrying the weight of guide and counselor, but we are not the heroes. Hopefully, we apply every bit of wisdom we have; we offer the truth even when it is uncomfortable; we support the decisions, even when we disagree; we learn and grow; and we share our deepening wisdom with others so that our profession continues to advance. But, none of that makes us heroes of the change journey.
The heroes are those who make the journey, from the front line to the C-suite.
This is the next lesson that Joseph Campbell offers. The heroes are those who make the journey. Leaders are not heroes because they make the right decisions. They are not heroes because they send others to execute them. They only become heroes when they themselves take the inner and the outer journey. As my mentor Daryl Conner says, “Leaders can’t transform their organizations unless they are willing to transform themselves.”
This means that every change is personal. If the organization is facing conflict or imbalance in the marketplace, but the leadership is not taking it personally, significant change is not going to succeed. If the changes that are being faced are business imperatives and the C-suite is equipped with golden parachutes, be careful. If they are not personally feeling the heat, it is time to bring in new leadership for the change.
Perhaps your change is at the end. You–or you and your organization–are at a new beginning. Joseph Campbell offers up one more lesson to consider.
The ultimate aim of the quest, if one is to return, must be neither release nor ecstasy for oneself, but the wisdom and the power to serve others.
What has been your experience with the Hero’s Journey? What are the most important lessons you have learned. Please share your insights below.