Leadership models V: The Hero's Journey

Marton Trencseni - Fri 23 June 2023 - Leadership


This is the fifth article in my series on useful mental models in leadership and self-management:

The Hero's Journey, or Monomyth, is a narrative pattern identified by scholar Joseph Campbell that appears across a wide range of cultures and eras. At its heart, the Hero's Journey is a story of transformation, depicting the protagonist's path from the familiar to the unknown, through trials and revelations, and ultimately back to their world, forever changed. It's a blueprint for storytelling that not only speaks to our shared human experiences of growth, learning, and self-discovery, but also offers a profound metaphor for personal and professional development.

Joseph Campbell

Call to Adventure

The Hero's Journey is a narrative structure common to countless stories across time and culture. This universal blueprint traces the path of a hero as they depart from the ordinary world, venture into a realm of fantastic wonders and daunting challenges, and return transformed, bearing gifts for their society.

From ancient mythological epics to modern cinematic blockbusters, the Hero's Journey pervades our collective storytelling. Its stages can be seen in the narrative arc of Gilgamesh, in the adventures of Odysseus, and in the celebrated saga of a young farm boy on Tatooine named Luke Skywalker. The enduring appeal of this narrative pattern has been ascribed to its deep resonance with our shared human experience.

Despite the fantastical settings and extraordinary events that often characterize these stories, the Hero's Journey reflects our own journeys through life. It’s not just a plot device, but a metaphor for personal transformation, growth, and self-discovery. As we accompany heroes like Luke Skywalker on their quests, we vicariously confront our own fears, overcome our own obstacles, and discover our own latent potential. The Hero's Journey, then, is more than just a story. It's a journey of the self, towards the self, a narrative pattern that echoes our universal human quest for meaning, purpose, and identity.

Mental model

The Hero's Journey, or the Monomyth, describes a universal pattern found in many narratives around the world. In relation to leadership, the Hero's Journey can serve as a useful model for leaders and managers in several ways:

  1. Self-understanding: Leaders can compare their own personal and professional development to the stages of the Hero's Journey. Each stage can correspond to various aspects of a leader's journey, such as facing new challenges (Call to Adventure), hesitation in taking up new responsibilities (Refusal of the Call), acquiring new skills and knowledge, and so on. This can help leaders gain a better understanding of their own growth and development.

  2. Development of empathy and understanding: By viewing their team members' journeys through the lens of the Hero's Journey, leaders can gain insights into the personal and professional challenges that their team members may be facing. This can lead to more empathetic and effective leadership.

  3. Vision and Strategy Development: The Hero's Journey provides a narrative structure that leaders can use to craft their organizational vision and strategy. For instance, the Call to Adventure could represent the need for organizational change, while the Road of Trials could symbolize the challenges that the organization needs to overcome to achieve its goals.

  4. Change Management: The Hero's Journey can serve as a model for managing change. Each stage of the journey involves changes and challenges that need to be overcome, providing a useful analogy for the process of implementing organizational change.

  5. Motivation and Inspiration: The Hero's Journey, with its narrative of overcoming challenges and achieving a worthy goal, can serve as a powerful source of motivation and inspiration for both leaders and their team members.

  6. Coaching and Mentoring: The journey model can serve as a guide for coaching and mentoring, helping leaders to identify the stages of their team members' personal and professional development and provide appropriate support and guidance at each stage.

In sum, Campbell's Hero's Journey offers a universal narrative structure that can provide a rich source of insights and inspiration for leaders and managers.

Hero's Journey

Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey is typically divided into three main sections: Departure, Adventure and Resolution. Each of these sections contains various stages:

Sure, let's examine the Hero's Journey in detail, organized into three broad episodes:

Episode I: Departure

  1. Ordinary World: This is the hero's normal world, where we learn crucial details about our hero, their true nature, capabilities, and outlook on life. This anchors the hero as a relatable, sympathetic character.

  2. Call to Adventure: The adventure begins with the disruption of the comfort of the hero's ordinary world. This is a challenge or quest that the hero is compelled to undertake.

  3. Refusal of the Call: Although the hero may be eager to accept the quest, at this stage, they will have fears that need overcoming. This refusal is often because of fear, duty, or insecurity.

  4. Meeting with the Mentor: The hero comes across a seasoned traveler of the worlds who gives him or her training, equipment, or advice that will help on the journey.

  5. Crossing the Threshold: This is the turning point where the hero commits wholeheartedly to the adventure and finally steps into the unknown, marking the end of the Departure phase.

Episode II: Adventure

  1. Tests, Allies, Enemies: Now in a world of problems and challenges, the hero is tested, makes allies or enemies, and learns the rules of this new world.

  2. Approach to the Innermost Cave: The hero arrives at the edge of a dangerous place, often deep underground, where the object of the quest is hidden.

  3. Ordeal: The hero faces the greatest challenge yet, with the potential for death. This is a critical moment in the hero's journey, and everything is at stake.

  4. Reward: After facing death, the hero achieves the quest's goal or part of it, taking possession of the treasure or the reward that they've been seeking.

Episode III: Resolution

  1. Road Back: The hero is driven to complete the adventure, yet must deal with the consequences of confronting the dark forces in the ordeal.

  2. Resurrection: This is the climax, where the hero has their final and most dangerous encounter with death. The hero must use everything they've learned to overcome their most difficult challenge.

  3. Return with Special Knowledge: The hero returns to their original world, but the hero's journey has changed them. This change often manifests as a newfound knowledge or insight that the hero can now use to improve their world. This marks the resolution of the journey, where the hero emerges transformed, symbolizing their mastery of life.

By following this template, you can easily construct a captivating narrative that engages audiences due to its familiarity, emotional resonance, and satisfying resolution.

Peter principle

Luke Skywalker

In the annals of contemporary cinema, there are few stories as universally recognizable as the saga of Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars franchise. Not only has the character become a cultural icon, but his journey also serves as a textbook example of Joseph Campbell's "Hero's Journey." Skywalker's journey from a young farm boy on Tatooine to the savior of the galaxy follows Campbell's model almost to a tee, providing an intriguing case study of this universal narrative structure.

Luke Skywalker

In the annals of contemporary cinema, there are few stories as universally recognizable as the saga of Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars franchise. Not only has the character become a cultural icon, but his journey also serves as a textbook example of Joseph Campbell's "Hero's Journey." Skywalker's journey from a young farm boy on Tatooine to the savior of the galaxy follows Campbell's model almost to a tee, providing an intriguing case study of this universal narrative structure.

Ordinary World: Luke begins his journey on the desert planet of Tatooine. He lives a mundane life as a farm boy, longing for adventure.

Call to Adventure: When Luke stumbles upon two droids carrying secret plans that can help rebel forces defeat the oppressive Galactic Empire, he realizes there is a world beyond his desert home that requires his help.

Refusal of the Call: Initially, Luke hesitates to join the Rebellion. He feels he can't leave his family and their farm, despite his desire for adventure.

Meeting with the Mentor: Luke meets Obi-Wan Kenobi, a Jedi Knight who begins to teach him about the Force and his Jedi lineage, providing guidance and the lightsaber that belonged to his father.

Crossing the Threshold: Luke's threshold moment comes when his aunt and uncle are killed by the Empire. With nothing left for him on Tatooine, he decides to join Obi-Wan on his mission to deliver the droid R2-D2 and the Death Star plans to the rebel forces.

Tests, Allies, Enemies: Luke undergoes several tests, forms alliances, and faces enemies. He learns to pilot a spacecraft, meets Han Solo and Princess Leia, and faces conflicts with the forces of the Empire, including the menacing Darth Vader.

Approach to the Innermost Cave: The innermost cave for Luke is the Death Star, where he embarks on a rescue mission to save Princess Leia.

Ordeal: His ordeal is the climactic Battle of Yavin, where Luke, relying on his connection to the Force, has to destroy the Death Star.

Reward: With the Death Star destroyed, Luke and his friends are celebrated as heroes. Luke has proven himself a worthy Jedi and a formidable force against the Empire.

Road Back: The road back is the ongoing battle against the Empire. Although the Death Star is destroyed, the Empire remains a powerful threat.

Resurrection: Luke faces a significant ordeal in "The Empire Strikes Back" when he battles Darth Vader and learns the truth about his lineage. It's a form of death and rebirth for his character as he struggles with this truth and continues his Jedi training.

Return with Special Knowledge: By "Return of the Jedi", Luke has evolved significantly. He is now a skilled Jedi Knight and has come to terms with the revelation that Darth Vader is his father. He possesses the special knowledge of the Force and uses it to confront the Emperor, leading to the ultimate defeat of the Empire. He brings hope back to the galaxy, symbolizing his complete transformation from farm boy to galactic hero.


In the realm of Leadership, the Hero's Journey can serve as an invaluable roadmap for personal development and transformation. The leader's "Ordinary World" could be their initial state of managing without much strategic thought or direction. The "Call to Adventure" represents the realization that more effective leadership is required, and "Refusal of the Call" shows the initial resistance to adopting new leadership styles or methods. "Meeting with the Mentor" could be a period of learning and development, perhaps through mentorship or leadership training. As the leader "Crosses the Threshold", they begin to apply what they've learned, leading their team with renewed vision and skills. The trials they face and allies they gather represent the everyday challenges of leadership and the team members who support them.

When it comes to Team Management, the Hero's Journey provides an apt metaphor for team development and goal achievement. The "Ordinary World" is the team's initial state, while the "Call to Adventure" represents the team's project or mission. As the team moves through the stages of the journey, they face various tests, in the form of project hurdles and deadlines, and make allies, in the form of supportive team members or other teams within the organization. The "Approach to the Innermost Cave", "Ordeal", and "Reward" stages reflect the process of tackling the project's most significant challenges and ultimately completing the project successfully. The "Road Back", "Resurrection", and "Return with Special Knowledge" stages can represent the team's review of the project, their learning from any mistakes made, and the application of these lessons to future projects.

In driving Change Management, the Hero's Journey can illustrate the process of implementing and managing change. The "Ordinary World" represents the initial state of the organization, while the "Call to Adventure" is the realization that change is necessary. The "Refusal of the Call" symbolizes initial resistance to change, while "Meeting with the Mentor" might represent consultation with change management experts or gathering information about how to manage the change. As the organization "Crosses the Threshold", they officially initiate the change. The ensuing stages, such as "Tests/Allies/Enemies", "Approach the Innermost Cave", and "Ordeal", symbolize the challenges encountered during the change process, while "Reward" represents the successful implementation of the change. Finally, "The Road Back", "Resurrection", and "Return with Special Knowledge" signify the process of solidifying the change, dealing with any lingering issues, and applying the lessons learned to future change initiatives.

Peter principle


The Hero's Journey, as expounded by Joseph Campbell, remains a compelling framework for understanding not only the structure of countless stories from around the world, but also our personal and professional journeys. Whether you're a leader seeking to inspire your team, an educator shaping young minds, or a creative professional striving to craft a captivating narrative, the stages of the Hero's Journey can provide profound insights. It’s a timeless blueprint for transformation, highlighting the challenges we face, the mentors and helpers we encounter, and the ultimate boon we seek in our quest for growth and self-realization. It speaks to the enduring human capacity for change, underscoring that the path to becoming a hero lies within each one of us.