Since the beginning of time, people have been learning through mythological stories that help them understand who they are, where they belong in the community, and how they can make their contribution to the world.
As the pace of technological innovation and cultural change accelerates today, we desperately need a new generation of storytellers who can teach a new way of living and seeing ourselves beyond the rigidness and often dated orthodoxy of top-down human institutions.
As Buckminster Fuller eloquently said, “we are called to be architects of the future, not its victims.” To embody this truth we must recognize his wisdom that to change things we can’t spend too much time on fighting the existing reality but instead we should focus your energy on building a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.
I believe part of this emerging model of human cultural transformation to meet the unique challenges of the 21st century will involve reviving oral storytelling practices and a sense of collective mythology to make learning much more of a direct participatory and revelatory experience again.
Oral storytelling is crucial for what is today called transformative learning in psychology, which can be defined as the process of “perspective transformation”.
Transformative learning experiences involve three key dimensions of transformation:
- Psychological: changes in the understanding of the self
- Convictional: revision of belief systems
- Behavioral: changes in lifestyle
A transformative learning process involves the expansion of consciousness through the transformation of the student initiates’ basic worldview and specific capacities of the self.
It happens through a consciously directed process where the teacher and storyteller help the learner critically analyze their underlying premises and start to rapidly develop their self-awareness about their full capabilities as a human being.
Oral Storytelling And The Archetypal Hero’s Journey
Great leaders are always great storytellers.
The basic structure to oral storytelling involves these 3 important steps:
- The beginning that hooks the listener’s attention with conflict.
- The middle that develops the context and moral of the story.
- The end that delivers the climax and resolution of the conflict.
Anyone can become a much better storyteller by understanding this fundamental story structure so you can make a point quickly and keep people engaged in narrative tension between who they are and who they could become.
But there’s a much deeper storytelling blueprint to share meaning and spread truth that can inspire and empower radical transformation in the form of social innovation.
It is what renowned mythologist Joseph Campbell called the Hero’s Journey in his landmark book the Hero With A Thousand Faces.
As Joseph Campbell documents in his extensive works on human mythology, the Hero’s Journey is a process of character transformation that is encoded in the earliest human mythology and commonly shared across all human cultures.
It involves a departure from the ordinary sense of reality, an initiation into a vision of possibility and a period of harrowing trials and pushing personal boundaries to gain knowledge of the truth, and then a return to teach and share wisdom with the wider tribe.
This heroic journey isn’t just for fairy tales like Grimm’s Fables. This transformational learning blueprint can be easily identified in the religious stories of Moses, Jesus and Buddha; and Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters like Avatar, Star Wars, and The Matrix.
Nearly every great story passed down through the ages involves the archetypal map of the hero’s journey that empowers people to realize who they are, develop their creative potential, and serve a higher purpose in their community.
Some psychologists such as Carl Jung have even argued that this archetypal structure is somehow encoded in our DNA or the collective unconscious of humanity simply because it is found throughout all human cultures.
Understandably, this story structure has a lot of power and must be used wisely to initiate people into self-knowledge and a deeper understanding of their place in the world so they can better serve their society. The best leaders are those who inspire others to lead as well.
If you want to use the Hero’s Journey for leadership storytelling to better empower and motivate your audience then here are 7 important steps that can be used in narratives delivered through public speaking and teaching to craft stories that deeply matter.
The 8 Steps of The Hero’s Journey
The 3-steps of departure, initiation, and return can be expanded to hook your audience’s attention, deliver a powerful core message, and build a long-term relationship with those who resonate with your message.
Using this structure helps you to structure your ideas and tell a great story in a clear and concise way that doesn’t waste your audience’s time while flowing effortlessly toward the climax.
Get a pen and a piece of paper and start answering these questions for the best results:
1. The Hero
Every great story of personal transformation starts with the aspirations of your audience.
You must make it simple and relevant to their struggles and dreams by demonstrating fluency and speaking in the language of their internal dialogue.
Define your audience: Who is your audience and why should they care about what you have to say?
Define their problem: What is the specific problem or challenge in life that your story will help them solve?
2. The Problem
How can your story help them solve a problem they are struggling with?
Here you create a sense of tension and possibility for overcoming their mental obstacles. You want to open a gap between who they are and what they could be.
External problem: What is the problem they are struggling with that you can help them solve?
Internal problem: How does this problem make your audience feel about themselves?
Villain: What is the root cause of this problem and why isn’t it actually being solved?
3. The Guide
People don’t want to work with experts and authority figures who act like they’re the smartest person in the room.
They want to work with people who have similar experiences that are relatable, adaptable and fun. As the guide, your own hero’s journey probably involves the story of how you solved the problem yourself.
The most important part of being a guide is getting people to know, like and trust you. Otherwise, they will quickly tune out and do something else in this day and age.
Empathy: Why do you understand this problem better than other people?
Authority: Why should they listen to you? How do you demonstrate your expertise in solving this problem?
4. The Action Plan
While most people have lots of ideas and opinions, it’s the rare person who leads with a convincing plan to meaningfully solve one of the world’s problems.
You want to provide a step-by-step process for creating a shared sense of agreement for overcoming the obstacles and solving the problem at its root.
This requires some deep thinking about what lies at the root of the problem and why your audience would struggle to solve it themselves without your expertise and guidance.
Process: What is your step-by-step action plan for solving the problem?
Agreement: How you can alleviate their fears and help them overcome their mental obstacles?
5. Call To Action
How do you empower and inspire your audience to take action?
Here’s where you need a direct call to take action and learn more about your solution along with transitional calls to actions that help educate your audience about what you can offer them.
Direct: What is your direct call to action?
Transition: What are your transitional calls to action used to build your email list?
6. Avoiding Failure
How do you help your audience avoid failure? As a leader, your role is to empower transformational change and innovation by sharing a powerful creative vision of the future.
But the problem is most people are much more motivated by avoiding failure and they often fear success. That’s they need a leader, mentor, and guide to help them overcome these mental obstacles.
Negative consequences: List the negative consequences of not taking action and staying stuck where they are.
7. Visualizing Success
What will success look and feel like when they achieve it? Paint a picture of how the solution to the problem feels.
The perseverance and resilience necessary to take the road less traveled of the Hero’s Journey necessitate that you are a guide that inspires and motivates long-term action.
Benefits: List the positive changes and benefits your audience will experience when you help them solve their problem.
Initiating The Process of Personal Transformation
Finally, you want to define the character transformation and the aspirational identity of your ideal target audience member.
Following the Hero’s Journey to its climax with the result of either success or failure involves a powerful psychological process of inspiration, empowerment and helping them believe in themselves.
When success is achieved, a character transformation will have took place. At the end of this transformation process, they will have been initiated in a different way of living and return with new knowledge and wisdom to better serve their community.
Understanding the character transformation involves answering these two questions about your ideal target audience member:
Departure: Why was it necessary to leave their old self-image behind?
Initiation: What did they become during this process of transformation?
Return: How do they feel about themselves before you’ve helped them?
Try this exercise for yourself and you can start to get clear and concise about the Hero’s Journey that you offer as a leader.
Understanding this process can help you master the art of creating transformative learning experiences that keep your students engaged in the long-term process of getting the results they want.