Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey
Storytelling is one of the oldest forms of communication and the archetypal hero continues to be a key component. Whether…
March 20, 2021 | 7 mins read
Storytelling is one of the oldest forms of communication and the archetypal hero continues to be a key component. Whether it’s books or movies, fiction down the ages is replete with stories that focus on a hero’s journey. It was Joseph John Campbell, an American literature professor, who introduced the stages of a hero in his book, The Hero With A Thousand Faces (1949).
Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey was part of his idea of the monomyth—a common story structure in which a character ventures into the unknown to retrieve something they need. Despite facing conflict and hardships, the hero returns home, triumphant and transformed.
Much like this classic plot structure, businesses value individuals who can rise to the occasion and persevere despite the challenges. The ability to go on an adventure, learn a lesson, be victorious and gain new knowledge are the defining principles of true leadership. Let’s look at the various ways in which Campbell’s hero’s journey makes sense in workplace settings.
While Campbell had originally proposed the hero’s journey structure, Christopher Vogler elaborated on the concept in his book, The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structures For Writers (1992). A Hollywood screenwriter, best known for working with Disney, Vogler expanded on Campbell’s three stages and defined 12 stages of a hero’s journey. Here are Campbell’s (i.e., the original) three stages in hero’s journey:
The hero leaves the familiar world when they receive a call for an adventure
The hero ventures into the unknown i.e., the special world where they overcome a series of hurdles until they reach the journey’s climax—the main obstacle
The hero returns to the familiar world, triumphant; the journey changes the hero as a person.
Vogler suggested a 12-stage hero’s journey that has a more detailed character arc. It goes beyond the three-act structure and highlights the inner and outer transformation of the journey.
The journey is yet to begin. The hero finds themselves in a familiar setting where they lead their everyday life. It gives a glimpse into their character before the journey begins. Hamartia (a fatal flaw or challenge) is likely to change the way a hero thinks or behaves.
This stage sets the story rolling as the hero receives a call to action. Something or someone interrupts the hero’s normal life and presents a threat, problem or opportunity. The hero must take a call whether they want to embark on the adventure and face the consequences.
The hero feels unprepared, not ready to take on the adventure. Their fears and insecurities surface and they hesitate to step outside their comfort zone. Second thoughts and self-doubt prevent them from embarking on the journey.
This is the crucial turning point of a hero’s journey as someone else comes along for guidance and support. As the hero is afraid to spread their wings and go out on an adventure, a mentor helps them. They provide the hero with necessary tools and resources; they give advice, motivate them and impart the wisdom that’s likely to change the hero’s mind.
The hero leaves the familiar world and their normal life behind. They’re finally ready to step out of their comfort zone and respond to the call to adventure. They’re spiritually, physically and emotionally ready to begin their quest. This signifies their commitment to take risks and overcome challenges.
The hero finally confronts a series of challenges that obstruct their journey or progress. They learn the rules of the new and unfamiliar world. This stage helps them put their knowledge, experiences and skills to use. They gain a deeper insight into their character and identify others who can help them out.
This is where the hero gets closer to their goal. This stage entails all the preparation that goes into facing the main challenge. However, there may be setbacks that prevent heroes from trying out new ideas or approaches. If they fail, they need to try again—it’s a lesson in persistence.
It refers to the main obstacle a hero faces in their journey. It may be a dangerous physical test or a deep inner crisis that they must face and overcome. Vogler refers to this stage as the ‘black moment’ as the hero must conquer their biggest fear. This further informs every decision that they make after this point.
After overcoming the biggest hurdle in the journey, a hero transforms into a new state. They emerge stronger and more resilient than ever. This is a moment of great success and the hero earns their reward for their accomplishment. This moment should be celebrated.
The journey isn’t over yet as the hero needs to return to the ordinary world—where they came from. They must commit to completing the journey and travel back. With new learnings and experiences, integrating them into old life in itself is a challenge.
In this final test, the hero must use and apply everything they’ve learned or gathered over time. It reflects their personal growth and how well they can apply their knowledge to overcome obstacles. Vogler refers to this as the ‘final exam’ and the hero must give their best.
The hero finally returns to the ordinary world i.e., their original setting. They’ve emerged victorious as they patiently addressed and overcame every challenge in their journey. They bring the elixir or the knowledge and that’s the true reward of their journey and transformation.
Although an increasing number of women are pushing their boundaries in leadership positions, the progress towards parity remains slow. The Women in the Workplace report (2020) published by McKinsey & Company suggests that women remain dramatically underrepresented in senior management roles.
Joseph Campbell hero’s journey can be used as a lens to identify the various challenges and opportunities that are instrumental to successful women’s leadership. This process of personal transformation is a roadmap for professional success. Women need appropriate tools and resources that can help them climb the corporate ladder. Organizations need to ensure that there’s sufficient support, guidance and mentorship so that women aren’t afraid to explore new challenges and opportunities. Create an environment where more and more women step outside their comfort zone.
Here are a few simple yet effective tips that’ll help you promote women’s leadership in the workplace. Help them explore their own version of the hero’s journey and enhance leadership qualities.
One of the biggest roadblocks to promoting women’s leadership is the accessibility of resources. It can include on-the-job training or guidance in general—individuals can sharpen necessary skills, capabilities and perspectives.
Nudge women towards the right direction by helping them make choices and decisions independently. Encourage them to take ownership and provide them opportunities for professional and personal growth. C0-create a leadership development strategy.
To make your work environment truly inclusive and supportive, address unconscious bias. Whether it’s your hiring process, salary increments or promotions, implement checks and balances and promote fair practices. Understand what women expect from their roles.
A majority of women struggle to build strong professional networks. It’s crucial because the right relationships can help them access information, gain opportunities for career advancement and earn promotions. Effective leaders rely on good networks to influence and get results.
Employees may not always be comfortable voicing their thoughts, ideas and opinions. In order to capture what they truly need and expect, ensure frequent and anonymous feedback surveys. Increase the overall comfort and transparency.
It’s an undeniable reality that women leaders face a unique set of obstacles at work. Studies show that women bring to the table better business outcomes, smarter problem-solving abilities and richer collaboration. They can be inspiring role models who lift others as they leap themselves.
Harappa’s Women’s Leadership Program pivots on five crucial outcomes that help learners raise the bar at the workplace. It brings a carefully curated selection of academically robust and application-oriented concepts that’ll help women leaders navigate demanding and challenging mandates. Help them achieve transformative leadership and let these heroes shine in their journeys!
Explore Harappa Diaries to learn more about topics such as Adult Learning Principles, Must-Have Skills For Leadership & The Importance Of Women’s Leadership that will help organizations tap into their employee’s potential.