Unleashing Your Voice Blog


“It will all work out in due season.” 

 I can hear my father saying it now, full of calm and grace, the message he stuck to no matter what was going on.  Dad would be 92 years old today, and his signature statement matters more than it ever has.  He must have talked about that “due season” a thousand times as I was growing up, always with equal measures of belief and equanimity, usually when the rest or us were stressing out, spiraling up or losing our cool over disasters imagined or real.

This one is very real—and Dad meant something you might not expect. He wasn’t promising that things would go exactly as we wanted them to, or that there wouldn’t be trouble along the way, or that everything would be normal again before we knew it.  For him, the trajectory of life just continued to unfold, carrying us toward the “due season” where things would simply be as they would be. He accepted that there would be good times and bad times, and he was willing to move with the inevitable cycles of life in positive and perseverant ways.  He was the highest-level embodiment of the Innocent story type who has ever graced my life.

My Dad came by his outlook honestly. Raised in India by missionary parents, his long view of life was shaped by very different experiences than his U.S.-raised contemporaries. While they lived through the Great Depression, he played soccer with Indian children on fields where human skulls lay scattered—sometimes serving as the balls. He witnessed famine, leprosy and endemic social injustice. As a teenager, he was thrown from a train wreck that killed everyone else in the car where he had been standing.

Despite it all, Dad returned to the U.S. with the attitude of an Eastern philosopher and an indomitable, values-driven spirit. He described India and his experiences there in wondrous ways. His tales of encounters with water buffalo and elephants and even tigers were awe-inspiring (to him and to us). And it was clear he had learned the most about life from the un-schooled Hindu caretakers of his earliest years—not the more traditionally educated academics who taught at the British-run boarding schools he attended as a boy.

Throughout his life, Dad adapted to what was going on around him with an unwavering attitude of optimism, acceptance and hope. He would have done the same when facing our current and collective global crisis. I know he would have counseled me to have faith in others; to notice what’s right, good and possible; and to take what values-inspired action I could to support my beliefs.  Right now, all professionals and leaders need to think about how we can use the power of our best and most motivated selves to adapt.

Getting Conscious About Your Adaptive Tendencies

 This is my fourth of a four-post blog series on the ways our core story types can empower or disempower us.  I’ve written a separate post on each of the organizing quadrants in Dr. Carol S. Pearson’s 12-archetype motivation model (which groups the 12 story-based types into quadrants that represent the most important tasks we must accomplish in professional settings, and the underlying human needs that fuel them).  This post is about the adapting quadrant—the work we must do when something in our environment calls on us to learn, grow and respond.  If ever there was a time for that, it’s now.

The three story types most associated with this quadrant (Innocent, Explorer and Sage) all do this in specific, distinctive and potentially beneficial ways.  When faced with a need to adapt, Innocents check in first with their belief systems and shape a values-based response.  Explorers wonder what they can find out that brings new guidance or approaches to bear.  Sages apply their critical thinking skills to assess what they know or apply what they can figure out.

All of these approaches and mindsets are valuable and good—as long as they’re expressed from an empowering level of the story type.  That’s most likely to happen as our focus widens outside of ourselves to take in the affinity groups and communities we relate to AND an expanded sense of connection with all other human beings. And that’s what the world sorely needs right now.

What the world could use a lot less of now is the disempowering versions of these story types.  Those can emerge in ways that harm us, the people we care about, and ultimately the entire world. Take a look at the chart below for what the empowering and disempowering levels of each story type look like:

 

ADAPTING/GROWING

EMPOWERING LEVELS Innocent Explorer Sage
Level 3:  We (expanded other; enterprise, humanity, global community) Idealist  

Trailblazer

 

Mastermind
Level 2:  Us (immediate other/affinity group; family, team/department, local  community)

 

Believer Navigator Expert
Level 1: Me (self, personality/persona, ego)

 

Optimist Seeker Thinker
DISEMPOWERING LEVELS Innocent Explorer Sage
 

Level 1: Me (self, personality/persona, ego)

 

Pollyanna Wanderer Overthinker
Level 2:  Us (immediate other/affinity group; family, team/department, local  community)

 

 

Denier

 

Lone Wolf Dogmatic
Level 3:  We (expanded other; enterprise, humanity, global community)

 

Absolutist Deserter Deceiver

Getting back to your empowering ground

Let’s take a look at what the empowering and disempowering versions of these stories actually look like:

  • An empowered Innocent can help us keep hope alive and unite around the common ground beliefs that all of us cherish. A disempowered Innocent can naively deny what’s actually going on or disavow any other belief or perspective.
  • An empowered Explorer can guide us through the messy terrain of alternative options, and land on unique and exciting solutions. A disempowered Explorer might resent restrictions on their individual freedoms and ignore what’s best for the collective good.
  • An empowered Sage can help explain what’s really going on and answer essential questions that lead to wiser decisions for moving forward. A disempowered Sage can get too attached to their own conclusions, and defend them to the point of deception.

To get back on empowering ground, as yourself some of these questions (or find a coach to help you or your team work through it; there are many virtual options for doing that right now):

  • Innocent story types: What’s going right, and how can we build on that?  What are we refusing to believe or accept that we need to reconsider?
  • Explorer story types: What alternatives are available to us right now that we could try? Are we ignoring what’s good for others in our response?
  • Sage story types: What do we know for sure about what’s going on, and what do we need to find out? Where are we drinking our own Kool-aid or defending our point of view too strongly?

It will all work in out, in due season.  Thank you, Dad—and wherever you are, please send some hope our way.

Cindy Atlee is a Creator type who loves to help clients understand and express who they really are in the world.  She’s the principal of The Storybranding Group and co-author of the Professional Strengths, Values & Story Survey (SVSS).  Cindy also trains coaches and consultants to work with the story typing framework; find out about her next training (virtual option available from April 15-17 here:  https://www.eventbrite.com/e/story-type-narrative-intelligence-training-april-2020-tickets-90946707049.

 

 

 

SPOILER ALERT:  I’m about to reveal that the Harry Potter books and movies probably really tricked you—even if you never read or saw them.  (Also, I’ll be giving away the ending to the entire series at the end of paragraph four!). 

Everyone knows that Harry Potter was a magician, right?  He had a wand, after all, and learned how to use all kinds of spells, and could summon fantastic creatures to help him, and demonstrated the magical powers he had time and time again.  He transformed the world he lived in through enchantment and sorcery and conjuring, didn’t he?

Well, yes.  But Harry Potter wasn’t a magician at his core.  To truly be something, you have to be motivated by the role, by the quest and by the outcome of its inevitable story arc.  Magicians want to enable transformative change or heal others or see a big vision realized.

Harry Potter didn’t particularly want those things.  What he wanted was a family, a community, a place where he belonged and others did, too. He was exceptionally skilled at bringing people together in tough times and overcoming oppressive forces. He empathized with the people around him and desperately wanted things to work out for them, too.  The last three words of the Harry Potter book series summed up exactly what Harry longed for and ultimately enabled through courage and magic that was motivated by his Everyperson self:  All was well.

Leaders, coaches, consultants and professionals who want to make a real difference need to understand the critical difference between what someone can do and what actually motivates them to participate in a meaningful way.  Harry had magical powers, but they weren’t at the heart of his best self.  They were tools he used to be who he really was.  If he’d been in a career development program, the best path for him would have been moving towards the most empowering levels of the Everyperson story (and to become aware of the disempowering side of that very same storyline, where he’d be most likely to falter).

Getting conscious about your impact on others

This is my third blog post on the empowering and disempowering faces of the most universally recognized story types in contemporary culture.  I’ve been writing a separate post on each of the organizing quadrants included in Dr. Carol S. Pearson’s archetype system (which groups the 12 story-based types into quadrants that represent the most important tasks we have to accomplish in our professional settings).

We’ve reached a tricky spot in the series, because we’re moving out of the well-worn organizational terrain of making things work and producing results (the first two quadrants) into the definitively more fragile human ground of relating to others and developing a sense of belonging.  I’ve seen this quadrant get very short shrift in a lot of organizational settings, and its importance likely gets under-estimated a good bit in American culture as a whole.  After all, we tend to prize rugged individualism and often de-value anything that looks too much like dependence.

So, here’s the thing:  organizational leaders ignore the relating quadrant at their peril.  It may not shape American culture as much as the other quadrants–but it’s the most foundational of all human needs and has a huge impact on organizational culture.  Relating is where commitment is most frequently born (and needs to be cultivated).  It’s such a strong motivator for many people that it actually enables their capacity to produce results (think Harry Potter here, big time).  And people who are operating at a disempowering level of a story in the relating quadrant can wreak absolute havoc in their interactions with others.  So let’s take a look at what can happen at the empowering and disempowering levels of relating-oriented story types.

Lovers can make the most enthusiastic and passionate commitments, build the strongest connections across people and groups, and help everyone see what’s truly special about them. They can also play favorites, use their charm to wheedle favors and actively exclude people who aren’t part of their cliques.

Jesters can lighten up situations with their wit, help other people hear otherwise uncomfortable truths and model ways to reduce stress and increase presence.  They can also goof off, use their wits to manipulate and actually trick or con others to get their own way.

Everypersons like Harry Potter can form deep and abiding loyalty to others, shape and build strong groups or communities, and ultimately stand very tall for human rights.  They can also fall into complaining and blaming imagined “oppressors” and see the world in bleak enough terms that everything starts looking like a catastrophe.  Harry Potter did that every now and then.

 Getting back to your empowering ground

 So the first step in claiming the most empowering ground in the relating quadrant (or to help someone else do that) is acknowledging the power and value of its story types.  If this is where your core motivation lies, understand and own it. Consider the following questions:

  • What important professional contributions do I make because I’m like the relating-oriented type that resonates most for me?
  • What kind of environment do I need to flourish, and how can I help shape that for myself?
  • What kind of situations trigger me and set off a disempowering downturn?
  • How can I shift my energy back into a more empowering place when that happens?
  • Who have I been under-estimating because they’re very much like one of these types, and what should I do differently about that?

And remember to use your magic wand in service of something that really matters to you.

I’ve seen a lot of super hero movies this year.  Okay, I’ve seen three—but that’s probably two more than the previous 10 years combined!  If the box office results are any indication for these types of movies, I’m not alone.  I’ve joined in on a collective societal hunger to see victory play out and helped pave a golden path for producers who help us tap into it. 

We don’t just go to super-hero movies—another trend is the success of all kinds of competitive TV shows where participants get eliminated until somebody “wins.”  I pretty much just binge-watched a glass blowing competition (okay, it was really cool to see glass blowers on TV, but there had to be a winner!). 

There’s no question that triumph is exhilarating—by action or by association.  Why else was I all puffed up the day after my alma mater, Old Dominion University, won what some pundits have called the biggest underdog upset in sporting history?  ODU didn’t even have a football program when I went there, and I’ve never attended a game!  That feeling of victory was viral just because I had an affinity for the group itself.  But there are definitely some up sides and some down sides to this results-oriented kind of energy. 

Hero isn’t just dominating the entertainment world.  It’s shaping many of the positive and negative trends in our working lives.  Businesses are under constant pressure to produce short-term financial results.  Productivity and performance are the bell weather measurement standards for employee value.  Non-profits can’t get grants without evidence-based results of how you’ve achieved victory.  Let’s not even get started on politics—the polarization in today’s political climate and the horse-race mentality of media coverage is all about the Hero storyline. 

Here’s where it gets interesting and a little disturbing.  Hero is such an intoxicating storyline in American culture that there’s a whole sub-genre of movies, books and TV shows devoted to the anti-hero—the character who operates almost entirely on the disempowering side of the storyline and actually gets revered for it.  There doesn’t even have to be a redemptive arc for the protagonists in these stories (think Breaking Bad). 

So what does it mean for our workplaces if we’re so consciously and subconsciously tied to a sense of identity around results—or a need to create one if we want to look successful–that actual harm can begin to look okay (the ends truly justifying the means)?   

Getting conscious about your relationship with results

This is my second blog post in a four-part series on the empowering and disempowering faces of the most universal story types.  I’m writing a post on each of the organizing quadrants included in Dr. Carol S. Pearson’s archetype system (each of which represents one of the four most important tasks of professional life and the underlying human needs that drive them). 

This post is about the results quadrant, with its laser-like focus on human mastery and self esteem—and it’s the most potent quadrant in American culture right now.  Results rule the day in this country’s politics, business and social justice movements. We want things to happen, and we mostly want them now.  All three of the story types in this quadrant feature characters who are highly motivated to get results (although in different ways).  Heroes want to win; Revolutionaries want to change the game; Magicians want to realize big visions.  Each of those characters has juice in the world, but none of them is as ubiquitous today as the Hero. 

What does this have to do with the empowering and disempowering faces of the Hero story type?  Hero has both, just like all the other story types.  On the empowering side of the storyline, a Hero shows up prepared to compete valiantly, defend what matters most to those they hold dear, and ultimately triumph for a cause that’s bigger than themselves or the interests of their own circle.  On the disempowering side, a drive to achieve can descend into burnout, bullying others into acquiescence and seizing the spoils for themselves.    

We can also glorify the other two types in the results quadrant when we can find ourselves glorifying thieving outlaws (Revolutionary) and rooting for bad sorcerers (Magician).  This rarely happens on the disempowering side of archetypes in any of the other quadrants, which is a cautionary tale all by itself.  Take a look at the chart to see the trajectories of empowerment and disempowerment associated with each of these types:

All of this means we have to be especially vigilant and conscious of who we are when we take on the strengths and values of these characters.  Professionally, this doesn’t usually play out with the kind of drama we see in the movies.  There aren’t many car chases but there’s a real human toll. 

An unconsciously relentless drive for results can create driven workplace environments with high levels of burnout and disengagement, and/or toxically assertive cultures where employees have to be either winners or losers.  Just search for Amazon or Uber workplace culture to see exactly what this looks like.  And be well aware that you could be shaping your own mini-versions of these cultures in your very own team or group. 

Getting back to your empowering ground

What to do?  Well, this is one of the areas where I think coaching can be the most powerful.  If you’re a leader, you have to manage your own relationship with results and what that means for you and the people around you.  Consider getting a coach to work you through the kind of inquiry below, or answer the questions for yourself:

  • Does my quest for results sometimes land me in disempowering terrain?  NOTE:  Be brutally honest
  • Are the results I’m driving attached to anything meaningful besides financial gain or a self esteem boost? 
  • What are the consequences for me, my team and/or my organization?
  • THIS IS THE IMPORTANT QUESTION:  What is actually worth fighting for in your professional life?  What’s the bigger cause that has great meaning to you, the people that matter to you, and the world around you?
  • How can you shape your leadership around that, and engage others to bring the best of themselves to that purpose, mission or vision?    

Good luck.  May the force be with you. 

Okay, I’ll admit someone else has my dream job—advising Hollywood studios about the archetypal resonance of film scripts.  The guy who does this can predict a flop or a hit based on whether the storyline plays out the way the human psyche wants it to—the same way it does in the most universally known stories that people love to know and tell.  So, yep, a movie called The Breakup flopped because, well. . . the couple broke up, and learned absolutely nothing in the process.  Ever heard of this movie?  I didn’t think so.  The movie tanked because it had nothing very meaningful to say about its core storyline—the Lover’s search for connection. 

A current movie that actually nails an archetype is Yesterday, a delightful take on the Creator storyline that you can see either as a cautionary tale or a redemption arc for its main character.  No spoilers here—you’ll find out in the first 10 minutes that our struggling musician protagonist, Jack, wakes up after a freak global blackout to find out he’s the only person who remembers the Beatles or any of their songs.  Since no one knows he didn’t write the songs, Jack rises to fame by claiming and performing them as his own.  This is not as much fun as it looks, though—especially since Jack is a true Creator, and his actions have dropped him right into a disempowering version of his own most essential self. 

This happens for real people and organizations all the time as well (usually without the punchlines and heightened drama, but not always!).  I help clients define a character that represents who they are at their best—each of which has both an empowering and disempowering way of showing up in the world.  Getting conscious about both sides of that coin is a critical facet of professional and organizational development.  It’s one of the most important things a coach or consultant can learn to do with clients–or a leader can introduce–to shape a high-performance, high-contribution team or culture. 

Getting conscious about your story level

This is the first post in a four-blog series about how our core story types can empower or disempower us—and getting conscious about what that can mean.  I’ll be referencing Dr. Carol S. Pearson’s 12-archetype motivation model, which is organized into quadrants built around the four most important tasks of professional life (and the human needs that drive them). 

In this post, we’ll be looking at story types in the systems and structures quadrant (Creator, Caregiver and Ruler), which revolve around making things work better so that our lives and workplaces feel more stable and secure.  Creators do this by developing and leveraging ideas; Caregivers by developing and supporting people; Rulers by developing and using resources.  Think about which one of those three story types you’re most like as you keep reading.

The other thing to remember is that we’re all constantly shifting in and out of three perspectives as our storylines play out:  there’s a focus on the self, or on an affinity group that matters to us, or on a more expanded sense of connection with other human beings.  As I’ve worked with the model over the years, I’ve seen that our actions can be empowering or disempowering at any of these levels.  People have the ability to do great good or significant harm in the name of ourselves, the groups that are most important to us, and the larger world around us as well

Let’s see how this can look for the three story types in the making things work quadrant.  The labels in each box characterize how that person or organization might show up in each of the story levels (both empowering and disempowering).  These aren’t the only trajectories possible for each type, but they’re good examples: 

So what happened with our Creator friend Jack in Yesterday?  Instead of tinkering around with ideas—eventually making or generating things that matter to society itself—he fell into the disempowering trap of imitating those around him and eventually perpetrating actual fraud to build his own creator persona. 

It’s different for other story types.  A Caregiver can be a great supporter, an inspired developer of people or a true servant leader who prioritizes the needs of others.  That same person can also take on too much responsibility for the people around them, become a self-sacrificing martyr or even stifle self reliance and independence in others.

A Ruler type may be really effective take-charge manager, an orchestrator who helps everything run smoothly, or a steward who looks out for the good of an entire enterprise.  That same person can also become too controlling (in a way that pressures themselves and others)—eventually dominating those around them and dictating all the terms for entire groups, enterprises and cultures. 

Getting back to your empowering ground

So if you want to get yourself back on to more empowering ground, the only real path is to get more conscious about how you show up and what that means.  Think about a current situation and ask yourself these questions about your own story type:

  • Have I slipped into one of the disempowering ways of acting here?  NOTE:  Be brutally honest!
  • What does that look like and feel like (for me and others)?  NOTE:  Be brutally honest again!
  • How’s that working out for me and the people around me?
  • How can I shift my energy, attitude and action into one of the more empowering levels?
  • What could the “happy ending” be like if I did? 

Since teams and whole organizations can also form a story-based identity, these questions can also apply to any group. 

So how did Jack’s story turn out—did he live out his life as a fraudster, or a find a way to be a generator with ideas that benefitted others?  You’ll have to see the movie yourself to find out!  Just remember—there’s almost always an empowering way to show up as who you really are.  It could be a long and winding road, but a great trip! 

Cindy Atlee is a Creator type who loves to help professionals, teams and organizations understand and express who they really are in the world.  She’s the principal of The Storybranding Group and co-author of the Professional Strengths, Values & Story Survey (SVSS).  Cindy helps individual and organizational clients cast themselves in a compelling, enduring story that authentically conveys their unique value.  Take the SVSS for yourself here:  http://www.storybranding.com/take-the-svss-survey/

SPOILER ALERT:  IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE LAST SEASON OF GAME OF THRONES—AND DON’T WANT TO KNOW HOW IT ENDS—DON’T READ THIS BLOG POST! 

Last week, more than a million people signed a petition demanding a re-do of the entire final season of the wildly popular Game of Thrones TV series.  That’s more than the populations of Montana, Delaware, Rhode Island and five other states in the U.S.; more people than live in Iceland, Fiji or Luxembourg (and several hundred other countries as well). 

Why so much energy and outrage about a TV show?  There were hundreds of reasons cited via media channels, blog posts, comment threads and discussion websites, but it all boiled down to one core issue:

Game of Thrones jumped the archetype.

Archetypes are narrative grooves that are deeply etched into the human unconscious because they reflect and reinforce universal human expectations and needs.  Archetypal story lines are repeated over and over again in the tales that move people most, feature almost inevitable outcomes, and tap into motivational patterns that help us see and make meaning of what’s going on inside and around us.  Archetypal dissonance occurs when a narrative disrupts those patterns in seemingly meaningless ways—either in how it’s told or how it ends.  Game of Thrones ultimately upset the apple cart on both fronts.

Stories about power (the Ruler archetype), vision (the Magician archetype) and connection (the Lover archetype) are among the most potent of the archetypal story lines. Game of Thrones was largely a Ruler story, but it dabbled in the other themes as well, to very mixed results—and ultimately didn’t leave a clear or compelling message about its core premise.  That left a lot of questions about what kind of story people had invested in for nearly a decade.  Was it a cautionary tale?  A morality play?  A romantic tragedy?  And what, in the end, actually mattered about it?

I feel like three things happened in Game of Thrones that led to the outrage:

  • The show became plot driven instead of character driven. The show runners short circuited the storytelling in favor of plot machinations, leaving it very unclear what was motivating many of the main characters (or why those motivations changed so quickly and so decisively).  That’s especially true when it comes to Queen Daenerys, whose absolute corruption may have been foreshadowed but unfolded in a whiplash time frame.  Effective story tellers can subvert traditional narrative themes, but not in a way that wipes out most of the previous character development and almost all of the values that shaped our understanding of them. 
  • The ending mixed up the archetypes. In what had previously been a Ruler story line, the ending was essentially about a Magician gaining the power (but without a real Magician payoff).  The seer became the king—but despite having magical powers, Bran didn’t convey any vision for moving a kingdom forward to go along with them.  His ascension didn’t feel earned, either through action or through an empowering aspiration that others seemed likely to follow. 
  • The ending wasn’t really right for our times.  The story had the look of medieval times, but it was a fantasy not entirely bound by the constructs of any specific period.  Yes, it ultimately sowed the idea that a move away from monarchs towards a kind of democracy is the right direction—but its end note involved depicting its strongest female leader as rapidly succumbing to drunken power, and relegated the other to running a subsidiary rather than the whole enterprise.  Maybe not the best look for 2019? 

So, what does any of this have to do with workplace leadership, culture building or branding?  Quite a lot, actually.  People and organizations make these same kinds of mistakes all the time.  So here are some key take-aways for leaders from the Game of Thrones uproar: 

  • Take purposeful action and act from authentic motivation.  There’s a lot of propulsive action in organizations these days (like in the final episodes of Game of Thrones), and much of it is more plot driven than character driven.  Driving blindly toward results instead of purpose or mission is a great example of that.  In that case, motivation can seem very shallow to others (and certainly not empowering or engaging enough to prompt genuine commitment and contribution). 
  • Take the time to see and understand who you really are (and who your organization is)—and live by that.  This will make your authentic motivational drivers very clear—and is far more likely to shape your success than drive without any particular purpose to propel it.  It also builds trust because others know what to expect and can ultimately count on it when you stay the course.
  • Convey your values and your vision.  People want to know where you’re going and why.  They want to know what you stand for and care about.  In Game of Thrones, Bran sees the future but doesn’t share anything particularly meaningful about it or what it might mean.  We also don’t really know what values will shape his actions.  Values provide the inspiration and the guard rails for moving forward (they keep you on purpose and on brand while shaping a culture that cares to do so).
  • Tell a coherent, contemporary story.  It’s hard to build internal or external brand loyalty when your story line shifts too often—there’s nothing substantive enough to sustain engagement.  The expression of it is another matter, though.  You can live out a Ruler story line (or any other) for decades, but you should refresh how the story is told much more frequently based on what’s going on in your market, in the culture, and—most importantly—in hearts and minds. 

You don’t have to take the lessons of Game of Thrones to enterprise heart.  Then again, who wants the entire population of Fiji turning against you?