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  • Writer's pictureJim M. Morgan

Executive Communications: The Hero’s Journey



The most compelling stories – those that have been passed down, generation after generation – share a similar structure. In the 1940s, cultural scholar Joseph Campbell described this structure as “the hero’s journey,” a progressive series of events that propel a character from innocence through adventure to experience. More recently, screenwriter (and fellow USC alum) Christopher Vogler streamlined Campbell’s model and applied it to filmmaking. Here’s how this approach to storytelling can also invigorate executive communications.

 

Departure

 

Broadly speaking, the hero’s journey can be separated into three stages. The first of these is departure – a break from the ordinary. You can also think of this as the hero’s “birth” – the point at which he or she chooses to do something that will upend the status quo. For that reason, this stage might also be called “disruption.” In many cases, this disruption is not sought out, but rather is thrust upon the potential but initially reluctant hero. It culminates with a conscious decision to do something new and, typically, dangerous. The “taking on” of this challenge is what makes the hero heroic.

 

How does this apply to executive communications? Every new initiative – whether a product, a service, or a program – brings with it the potential for disruption of the status quo. That’s a good thing! An executive who can persuasively describe a new initiative in terms of its potential to disrupt the norm and chart a powerful new course – one that promises richness of experience, and perhaps richness of reward – will often find lots of willing help.

 

Initiation

 

The second stage of the hero’s journey entails all of the tests and trials the hero must face on the road to success. This stage is an “initiation” because it introduces the hero to new experiences and new knowledge. Help from a mentor or ally is typically needed to combat enemies or overcome obstacles. The successful completion of the initiation “rites” endows the hero with new power, abilities that would not have been possible had the challenge not been accepted.

 

How does this apply to executive communications? This second major stage of the hero’s journey is where the real work is done. Having decided in the departure stage to take on a new initiative, an organization must have the collective determination and commitment to fight its way through the multiple challenges of the initiation stage. An executive who knows this – and who is prepared through messaging to keep his or her organization motivated and on track – will make successful completion of this stage much more likely.

 

Return

 

The third stage of the hero’s journey is when the benefits of the previous two stages are fully realized. Having undertaken an adventure and successfully met its challenges, the hero now returns home a changed person – more knowledgeable, more powerful, more heroic. The beneficial fruits of the heroic labor can be bestowed upon the hero’s home community, further elevating the hero’s status and ensuring his or her name will be remembered forever.

 

How does this apply to executive communications? An organization that has successfully navigated the previous stages of the hero’s journey – and is ready to reflect on its accomplishments – will expect its leader to lead that effort as well. Put simply, celebration will be in order, and a savvy executive must ensure that the organization’s heroic accomplishments are appropriately and fully recognized. Doing so will make the organization even more likely to embark on future heroic journeys.

 

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