I was reflecting yesterday on the roles change agents play within the 'hero's journey' and the implications of the hero’s journey for leading change (note I am using the term 'hero' to refer to both males and females).
First, let me define those two things:
Change agents are people who attempt to positively influence change through his or her actions, or influencing the actions of others (i.e. most of us in our day to day lives, plus leaders of organisational change).
The hero's journey is a basic pattern found in many narratives from around the world.
Joseph Campbell describes it quite wonderously: "A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man."
I've taken a few writing courses, during which I learned that the backbone of a typical fiction includes;
- Identifying a gap (usually something that is shut down or out of balance within the main character), then
- Going through the adventure of the hero's journey to overcome blocks to transformation. The character’s inner journey is usually facilitated by an outer journey - which contains multiple change agents - some genuinely trying to steer them towards this transformation, others providing an environment they can change within (incl. providing the challenges / resistance they need to overcome, to make their inner journey meaningful). The hero is also a change agent on the personal level in that they make the choice to change within the environmental/situational context (and, since the outer journey reflects the inner journey, they transform their environment/situation in the process).
What roles do change agents play within the 'hero's journey'?
Looking at the hero's journey chart above, I'd argue that every phase could be played by change agents:
- providing a call to adventure i.e. articulating a vision - step 3 of Kotter's 8 steps to change management
- being the 'supernatural aid' i.e. communicating the Vision for Buy-in / helping them see and feel the vision and reason for change - step 4 of Kotter's 8 steps to change management
- providing the threshold i.e. urgency & felt need for change - step 1 of Kotter's 8 steps to change management)
- being the helper i.e. effective follower - as defined by Kelley
- being the mentor i.e. coaching leader - as defined by Goleman
- providing challenges i.e. opportunities for the hero to learn experientially incl.: overcoming resistance, undertaking training, inviting them to step up to achieve a goal / attain something of value
- facilitating the hero through seeing the revelation i.e. the emotive 'clunk' of understanding about what needs to change and being able to let go of the old & embrace the new - this could involve influence tactics such as rational persuasion, inspirational appeals, consultation (Yukl), creating interventions (Bandura, 1997 in the context of developing self-efficacy) / facilitating experiential learning workshops, incl. processes to support consolidation of learnings
- supporting the return to a new status quo i.e. consolidating gains and making change stick - step 8 of Kotter's 8 steps to change management
What are the implications of ‘The Hero’s Journey’ for leading change?
Isn't this the most intuitive approach for understanding change management?
Based on its pattern throughout global narrative history, ‘The Hero’s Journey’ is arguably the intuitive, natural approach to change that moves people. However, it does not match the approaches espoused by change theorists, such as Kotter’s 8 steps (1996), Kanter, Stein and Jick’s 10 commandments (1995) or Nadler and Nadler’s (1998) recipe for organisational change. The key differences:
- When you consider that every human being has a life story and is in the process of learning (i.e. life), it becomes clear that every person is within their own hero’s journey (i.e. everyone is running their own change agenda).
- Heroes / personal change agents must become aware of their own personal biases (personality type, perceptions, beliefs, cultural norms, values, motivations etc) to ensure they do not make incorrect assumptions / have blind spots or biases in relation to their change efforts, in order to be effective. Every hero’s journey / change effort will involve peeling back new levels of awareness - and adjustments will need to be made on an ongoing basis, to take account of new information.
- Where a human being is interconnected with other humans in any way, there are multiple change agents / heroes, each working on their own journeys (change agendas). In other words, everyone is trying to implement change, but their 'change' is probably different to the one you are trying to lead and implement. In order to get the people you are trying to influence to buy in to your hero's journey / change agenda, you must find a way to align their agenda with yours, or yours with theirs. In other words, find out what motivates them - and what shared interests, beliefs or ambitions you could align on. If they are ‘shut down’, then it becomes necessary to re-establish their belief in themselves and the value of contributing to the world around them (not just their self-efficacy for a task).
- In a work of fiction, as in general life, a lot of change is serendipitous - each 'hero' (i.e. every character) is finding their way on their own journey as well as playing a part in the story of each other character. The change agents are each embroiled in their own hero's journey as well as in each others journeys. We each pick ideas for the next 'scene' in our change journey from the smorgasboard of stories around us.
In summary, the existing models of change don't address the concept that everyone is a change agent on their own journey. The existing models are linear, based on a the premise of a static external environment, whereas in real life (as in the hero's journey), the change journey is unknown at the start. It can't be known at the start, because the process involves deriving more awareness (incl. eliminating personal biases) - and playing the roles of helper, mentor, transformer and consolidator in other people's journeys, whose life scenes form the external environment we are attempting to change!
I need some more time to reflect on this – meanwhile, I’d love to hear any comments.