Four mythic leadership stories

2015

Karen Armstrong, the author of many books on the world religions, observed that in most pre-industrial cultures, “there were two recognized ways of thinking, speaking, and coming to know our world. The Greeks called them mythos and logos. Both were essential and neither was considered superior to the other. They were not in conflict but complementary.”

Logos was the voice of reason. Mythos was the timeless language of the imagination and our felt life together. It was through this mythic lens that we came to know aspects of our lives that exist alongside of and apart from reason - things like love, beauty, inspiration, meaning and purpose.

With the rise of the industrial economy, we created a world out of balance. Logos quickly rose to dominance and our mythic life fell into disrepute. With the loss of the mythic life, we no longer had access to the experience of ekstasis; that is, the ability to step out from the norm and allow life to live through us so we may experience the larger than life connection to the richness of our archetypal or mythic story.

Our mythic stories remind us that just behind the world of analytics, where everything is measured and quantified, there exist powerful archetypal narratives that shape who we truly are.

For example, we are all familiar with the archetypal myth of the hero or heroine from screen and literature. Often they initially refuse the call, but eventually they experience a visitation in some form which convinces the hero/heroine to yield to their destiny, take up the mantle and burdens of leadership and achieve great things.

There was a time when our world was enchanted with these exemplary figures who in their full presence served as wise guides to help make visible a hidden world of interconnection and wholeness. But as time passed, logic and analysis prevailed and these mythic stories fell into disrepute. Yet in order to make sense of an unknowable future and the complexities of the modern age we need to re-establish our connection to this mythic world and the wisdom of these stories once again.

To achieve this balance, the Greeks considered each place to be home to a god and that each god told a story. Those stories helped them to sense of a world that remained illusive to the naked eye. In so doing, they also discovered the unique power, presence and character that each particular god possessed.

To participate in this exemplary world we cannot rely upon the intellect’s understanding alone. Nor can we apply the same strategies to change our world that we used to create it. We will need to invite into our midst, and be guided by, these exemplars and respect them as the archetypal presences that shape the larger narratives in our lives and, in so doing, offer us the wisdom to wisely navigate a complex and changeable world.

The Sovereign: The Art of Invisible Intention

The Sovereign, sometimes known as the Visionary, tells the story of blessing abundance and re-generativity. It is a narrative of destiny, hope and aspiration. In the Destiny Story we are made strong by drawing upon our own rootedness to place as the source of our prophetic voice.

Our prophetic voice foresees and speaks out of a future made known to us long before it happens. Through acting in faith to our own calling we discover the art of invisible intention - an intention that transforms scarcity into abundance and extends a spirit of blessing and goodwill to all within our realm. In this context the sovereign holds the generative field that welcomes all the voices into the conversation and ensures that every voice is respected and each perspective is heard and understood

The Weaver: The Art of Balancing Expansion with Constraint

The Weaver, also known as the Magician, tells the story of renewal, ceremony and transformative celebration. It tells the story of magic, truth and possibility.

The weaver knows we cannot control our future but we can both design and celebrate it. And designing our future is more powerful than trying to adapt or predict it. The Weaver’s story also reflects the truth of our current reality and is aligned with the leader’s strength in seeing the tension in the relationship between the existing parts and the intricate patterning of the whole. It sees the potential of local wisdom and the constraints imposed upon it by current conditions.

These leaders occupy the threshold of different realities between constraint and expansion and weave them together with ease, playfulness and a keen sense of grace. In order to overcome obstacles and find new ways forward, the Weaver invites us to display our assumptions and certainties as well as our doubts and fears. The weaver also helps us in our journey by guiding us as we progress between the known and the unknown world.

The Enchanter: The Art of Seeing Generously

The Enchanter, also known as the Lover, tells the story of belonging including beauty, gifts, appreciation and inner seeing. As the source of our own aliveness, the leader as the enchanter possesses the gift of seeing generously.

They see the world through the lens of fulfilment, empathy and joy. This is the instinct for building connections and relationships that connect our place in the human dimension with nature, art and the larger-than-human world.

The enchanter invites us into a space of deep listening so that we can hear not only what is said but also the other’s request to be truly seen and understood - a request for listening with empathy that lies just behind the words. In our journey the enchanter also holds up the light of beauty that helps us find our way.

The Steward: The Art of Seeing the Roots That Hold the Whole

The Steward, also known as the Warrior, tells the story of homecoming including our shared history, legacy and tradition. The Heritage Story casts the leader as the protector and integrator of the realm, drawing together and serving as the steward in conserving the wisdom of the past and the heritage accumulated over the ages.

The protector’s loyalty is to the seed that holds the code for the whole, honouring local traditions and nourishing our connection to a story that has been a source of teaching and wisdom for many years. It is done with a commitment to truth, courage, service and seeking the integrity of the whole.

The steward is the protector who ensures each person is received with respect. The root of respect is to ‘look again,’ which means that each person receives a second opportunity to be known and understood. The steward also connects us with traditional sources of wisdom that will give us strength on our journey.

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About The Author

Michael Jones
Michael Jones

Michael Jones is a leadership educator, author and Juno-nominated pianist/composer. His most recent book, The Soul of Place: Re-imagining Leadership Through Nature, Art and Community, is the third in a series asking how leaders can re- imagine places as living systems inspired by nature, art, community and our deepening humanity.