Susan Letterman White

The Heroic Leader’s Journey

If you have been reading the articles in this series, then you have a general idea of your leadership skill-set, your motivation to lead, and the steps to move into leadership positions. Click here, here, here, here, and here for past articles in this series. You may have discovered a list of gaps, which you will need to close in order to move yourself closer to successful leadership. Perhaps you need to increase your book of business, find an internal mentor, or improve your strategic communication skills. Each of these gap-closing steps requires its own action plan, which is a detailed answer to the question: How will I accomplish this particular goal?

Thinking Differently will Make a Difference

The biggest influence in success or failure as a leader rests upon an invisible force - the way you think. Lawyers are trained to think in a few distinct ways. We are terrific at asking questions about where to look for additional evidence and what the evidence means. We are stellar at advocating the superiority of one meaning over another. Our training in legal analysis and advocacy is so thorough that we may not notice other ways of thinking; or, if we do notice them, we may discount their value. Successful leadership requires you change the way you think about yourself and your world. There are multiple lenses for seeing the world, thinking about it, and making decisions about actions to take. I teach lawyers how to increase their lenses using the MBTI® and other tools. What are the other gap-closing steps to increase the ways you think?

In legal jargon, we have constructive knowledge that there are multiple lenses through which to examine ourselves and our world, engage in sense-making, and decide what to do. It’s part of the language of our culture. "Investor’s Business Daily" lists its "10 Secrets to Success" everyday. In the list’s coveted top position sits this: “How you think is everything.” Henry Ford is often quoted as saying, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.” These are statements about the power in thinking in multiple ways about the same situation. We think in multiple ways by nature because, as aphorism enthusiast, James Geary will tell you, “metaphorical thinking is essential to how we understand ourselves and others, how we communicate, learn, discover and invent.” Click here to listen to Geary’s recent TED presentation. We have learned to suppress these multiple ways of thinking and as lawyers have raised this suppression to an art form.

Lawyers privilege the type of knowledge that flows from logic over that, which flows from all other ways of thinking. We consciously and explicitly de-emphasize the impact of the stories that we tell ourselves about ourselves; however, the impact on our unconscious thinking remains intact. In order to excel as leaders, we must surface our unconscious thinking and look at these stories, which profoundly affect our power to lead. Then we must decide how to harness our inherent leadership advantage as women – our greater skills in listening, building relationships, and creativity. This is how we will close the gap and learn to become better leaders.

  Right here and right now start to think differently about how to increase your leadership power. As you read this article, implement its ideas as if you were in a practice session on the leadership training field.

The Hero’s Journey and the 6 Archetypes

Dr. Carol Pearson, in the 1980s, wrote about the Hero’s journey (Think of the journey of  Odysseus.). Click here for more on Dr. Pearson’s work. The Hero’s journey is a developmental model through archetypes, which unfold as we encounter different obstacles. The journey is filled with opportunities to develop ourselves, our teams, and to practice leadership.  Let’s talk specifics.

Pearson’s model consists of six archetypes: the Innocent, Orphan, Warrior, Wanderer, Martyr, and Magician.  Each archetype has a set of associated tasks to accomplish.  Stick with me here.  In life, we regularly encounter challenges in need of effective solutions. The lens we use when we encounter a challenge affects how we respond to it. The point of the Hero’s journey is to develop an array of lenses to use in responding to challenges. We find these lenses through the archetypes. Try to see yourself in each archetype.

The Innocent archetype is a neutral starting point.  She doesn’t seek any goal in particular as she sits in her paradise where all is idyllic….until it is not. Maybe this happened on your first day in law school, in your first job after law school, or your first time in court. The task of the Innocent is to recognize that everything is not okay. The moment she perceives this loss of paradise is the moment she begins her journey toward self-sufficiency. 

Innocents morph into Orphans, who see the danger in world and the need to protect themselves from it. They recognize the limits of what others will do for them and the need for self-sufficiency.   This is the useful part of the archetype. Self-sufficiency also means that people are siloed from one another and expertise rests in individuals. They expect to be able to take care of themselves unless the situation calls for an expert. Trust wanes.

Does this type of relationships sound familiar? Lawyers are the experts upon whom their clients are dependent. In the expert dependency model one party is the all-powerful expert, who will solve the problems of a fully dependent other.

What happens when it is the expert, who has a problem? At one extreme the expert acts as if she were completely separate from the problem and if only she were to engage the right expert, the problem would be solved. This is the passive stance of the lawyer who depends on a causation expert for her case. At the other extreme she acts as though she alone can solve every problem independently. A nuance of independence is isolation. Distrust of others is high because the lesson of the Innocent was that trusting led to abandonment and exploitation. Neither stance helps to solve the problems that arise when working in a team, leading others, or developing deep client relationships.

The Orphan’s task is to find a level of self-sufficiency that makes sense. She needs to learn how to create her own sense of safety to take reasonable risks.  She needs to learn to craft her own solutions and move away from expert dependency when it's not appropriate. This happens as she begins to acknowledge her contributions to problems and their solutions and feels safe enough to begin to develop relationships built on trust.  These relationships will be the backbone of collaborative problem solving.

How much of the Orphan’s tendencies do you incorporate into your leadership style? Is it too much, too little, or just the right amount? Answering the questions at the end of this paragraph will help you to develop an awareness of how you use these tendencies. We all need to feel confident enough in our abilities to act independently or collaboratively, trusting or skeptical, and with risk-taking or risk-aversion depending upon the situation. We also need the appropriate skill level to know what each situation requires.

Do you tend to blame others for their behavior and not consider how changing yours could make a difference?

Do you tend to believe that problems are created and solved by others and your job is to stay out of the way?

Have you or your firm frequently changed coaches, mentors, consultants, or jobs and still faced the same types of problems?

Is your trust of others set at a low or high default?

Do you often feel as if you have been or are at risk of being abandoned or exploited?

How often to you notice risks? Take them? Avoid them?

Do you refuse to rely on others because you believe you will only be disappointed?

Are you extremely independent?

There isn’t a necessary order of progression through the archetypes.  Pearson suggestions that people move from Orphan to either Warrior or Martyr, then to Wanderer, then to either Warrior or Martyr (whichever was skipped earlier in the progression), and then to Magician.  I think that lawyers are taught the Warrior behaviors in law schools, where the battle skills of advocacy are honed.  In my work with lawyers and firms, I see more Orphan and Warrior behavior than any other. For that reason, I’ll talk about the Warrior archetype next.

The Warrior’s task is to experience competition, achievement, and metaphorical battle to find the courage, assertiveness, and confidence to be professionally effective. In the extreme, a lawyer will expect and even attempt to force others to conform to her needs without any sense of what it means to be in relationship with colleagues or clients. In groups of lawyers, it manifests as “violent agreement,” debating ideas that are the same as if they are different. For the Warrior, a sense of identity comes from feeling different and stronger than “the other.” When she begins to see her relationship with and responsibility to others, she learns how to use her strengths most effectively.

In contrast to the Warrior, the Martyr’s sense of identity flows from feeling connected to, even an integral part of, “the other.” As a developing leader recognizes her connection in the larger network of a team, practice group, division, organization, industry, and her world, she starts to see how her actions affect others.  She then acts in order to “do the right thing” even when it means sacrificing her own interests for the good of others. The task she perfects in this stage is developing selflessness. She learns to care about and how to sacrifice for others.  She learns that she is in relationship with others regardless of whether she intends this to be so and that her actions impact others. The extreme manifestation of the Martyr is sacrificing herself to save someone else until she learns how to manage her boundaries. 

How much of the Warrior and Martyr tendencies do you incorporate into your leadership style? Is it too much, too little, or just the right amount? Answering the questions at the end of this paragraph will help you to think about creating a balance to become a better leader. If you are familiar with MBTI® type, the Warrior-Martyr distinction is like the Thinking-Feeling dichotomy.

Is your default mode of interaction or communication a confrontational process designed to produce a winner and a loser?

Is your default mode of interaction or communication a process, which avoids confrontation?

Is your inclination to tell others what you want and need and then expect them to satisfy your needs and wants?

Is it your inclination to ask others what they want and need and then make every effort to satisfy them regardless of the impact on your own wants and needs?

When a person feels the need to separate from the confrontation or rescuing dynamics with others, she moves into the Wanderer archetype. The Warrior and Martyr stages allow a person to realize her impact on others and her part in the circumambient atmosphere that includes everyone and everything.  In either event, the person is reacting to a connection with others that is too constraining. This realization is a transition force into the Wanderer phase. She now uses autonomy and independence like a sword, rather than the shield it was in the Orphan stage. The result is isolation and searching for something better. We see this in lawyers who do not function well as part of a team, practice group, mentoring relationship, or firm. These lawyers focus mainly on their personal book of business. Eventually they may succumb to the perception of danger and flee to someplace else, like another law firm that they think will be safer for them in the long run.

When the Wanderer begins to desire the connection to others and the sense of community, she move into the phase she had skipped before the Wanderer phase, either Warrior or Martyr. Wanderers almost never feel as though their isolation, wandering, and searching is not in their best interest since the ability to do so is directly connected to the power inherent in having high portables.  Thus, the responsibility tends to fall on a Managing Partner to notice whether any lawyer, whose membership in the firm is important, is about to enter the Wandering stage. The important question to ask is whether the lawyer is feeling a sense of dysfunctional connection and the need to flee. The key sign is physical or psychological withdrawal from the community and others. Individual lawyers and cliques are susceptible to falling into the Wanderer phase. There are times that a short wandering is valuable.  The paradox is figuring out how to separate without severing ties.

The last phase is the Magician archetype. Curiosity and reflection are the processes that take a person to the Magician phase, where she can learn how to balance a sense of independent identity with a sense of being part of a larger whole.  It’s this curiosity and reflection that opens the door to innovation.  The Magician is able to see the opportunity in threats and to figure out a way to seize an opportunity for her or her firm’s strategic advantage.  Magicians see differences as the fertile ground necessary for innovative ideas through collaboration. The need to have power over others, which we see as a safety or problem-solving mechanism in the Orphan, Martyr, and Warrior is replaced with peer relationships and a sense of equality in and appreciation of differences.

This takes us back to the very beginning of this article. How you think is everything when it comes to managing others and solving the problems that leaders are tasked to do. Is it possible for you to think about your leadership qualities through the lenses of the Orphan, Warrior, Wanderer, Martyr, and Magician?  When you are able to do so, create a balance of the archetypes in your leadership style and you’ll immediately realize your inherent leadership power as a woman – your greater skills in listening, building relationships, and creativity for solving the challenges in advancing your career and contributing to the success of your group, organization, or law firm.

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