The hero’s journey, a storytelling narrative popularized by mythologist, noted author and scholar Joseph Campbell, describes the stages a central figure takes in embarking on an adventure, confronting and overcoming a crisis, and ultimately returning home transformed.
Star Wars and Lord of the Rings fans alike will recognize the story; but for managers facing ongoing organizational changes this narrative may also feel familiar.
Whether it’s a new CEO, a new strategic plan, a pivot to a new marketplace or technology or all of the above, change can feel like you are leaving your comfort zone for uncharted territory. How you manage this journey - for yourself and your team - can make the difference between returning home with the treasure or being bested by the enemy. Here are some helpful tools to place in your hero’s pack as you begin, or continue, your journey.
Find the Meaning
More than a decade ago, author Simon Sinek’s TedX talk on how great leaders can inspire action unleashed a mini-movement fueled by a simple, but profound, concept: find the why. Oftentimes managers and organizations start with the what -- “It’s the best product in its class” - or the how - “We implement the highest standards in the industry.” What they overlook is the “why” - why does your product/organization matter? This is the difference between the interchangeable PCs and the fanatic loyalty of Apple customers. One is a transaction; the other is a lifestyle. When facing significant organizational change, look for the why and you will find the greater meaning. This will help be the light when inevitably a conflict or deadline throws a challenge at you or your team.
Change itself is hard enough; when you work in a hostile, competitive or passive-aggressive environment the level of difficulty is only amplified. When people are in an uncivil work environment, they work less efficiently, take more sick days and experience more anxiety. Energy that could fuel innovative and creative thinking is re-routed to office politics and gossip. One antidote is the practice of compassion, as outlined by author and Stanford University lecturer Leah Weiss. When faced with someone you find challenging at work, she recommends the following:
Taking a risk is hard. It naturally brings up feelings of vulnerability, the possibility of rejection and failure, of embarrassment, of conflict. That is why we need emotional courage. If we have the courage to feel all of those emotions, then we will have the courage to act and do things that might bring about those emotions. Try something that scares you every day. It can be very small, like trying new food or walking more slowly. Those are things that, believe it or not, may bring up emotions for you if they are different from what you’re used to. Continue every day to do something that makes you a little nervous and also excited. Then if you have been putting off a difficult conversation at work, go ahead and start it. We build our emotional courage by using our emotional courage.
While change may be inevitable, we have the capacity -- and as leaders, a duty to our team -- to hit the pause button on occasion. When too much change is creating anxiety, or when not enough work has been invested in explaining change, a pause can help prevent fearful thoughts and anxious feelings from taking over. The more recently evolved functions in our brains need a bit of time to come online and counter the faster, older mechanisms. Pausing is the key to returning to the present moment. Simply interrupting fearful thoughts can help change our mindset. This is a big part of human freedom.