By Matt Langdon, June 19, 2015, Heroism Today
Every hero needs a team. From Frodo and Harry Potter to Dorothy and Katniss Everdeen. Every hero needs a team.
I’ve been studying heroes and heroism for nine years and one thing is clear: if you want to make a change in the world, you need help. No-one makes a significant impact without people supporting and encouraging them.
One of my favourite tools for showing people that they can be heroes is Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey. The hero’s journeys set out a series of steps that every fictional hero takes during their story. It applies to hero stories from all places and all times. The hero begins the story in the mundane world. It’s a place that bores them. They don’t fit. Then they receive a call to adventure and upon accepting, enter a new world where they encounter challenges, meet new people, and learn new skills. Once all of these trials are overcome, the hero returns home to share the lessons learned.
What I’ve left out there is that through all of these challenges, the hero relies on a team. They need someone to show the the way, someone to drag them forward, someone to give much needed advice, and someone to make the journey enjoyable.
And of course, the hero’s journey is not just describing the stories of fictional heroes. It maps onto our own stories and adventures. For every Frodo leaving the Shire, there are hundreds of us stepping out of our comfort zone in search of something greater. For every yellow brick road, there are scores of corporate ladders. For every Hunger Games, there is high school.
Just like the heroes of stories old and new, we are also walking the path with a team in tow. More often than not, we don’t deliberately choose our team. It is comprised of people we’ve picked up along the way and people we happen to spend our days with. What I want to suggest to you today is that you actively choose your team. To help, I’m going to provide a few key roles that the most successful heroes have on their teams. I’ll use examples from my efforts to put on the world’s best conference on heroism, the Hero Round Table.
Two months after I started teaching kids how to be heroes, I came across an article in the Greater Good magazine entitled, “The Banality of Heroism”. I read through those four pages with super speed and then I read them again. These authors had written down what I’d been doing. Every idea I’d had, they’d had too. And then some. At the end of the article, they explained that they had written this down to see if there was interest in further study. So, I googled the first author (who worked at Stanford), found an email address, and sent off a request to be kept abreast of any developments. I got a reply that same day that included the statement, “we need to work together.” I excitedly told my wife about these developments and she said, “The Phil Zimbardo?” I said, “Well, he’s a Phil Zimbardo.” She then explained to me that this guy was a world famous social psychologist.
The first role on our team we need to fill is that of the mentor. Phil Zimbardo became my Gandalf, my Dumbledore. Except with a sharper beard. Here was someone who had been there and done that taking an interest in my fledgling career. The validation that gave me was enormous. After many years of working together, his trust in me allowed me to list him as a keynote in a first year conference that had no business having such an illustrious speaker.
This experience gave me one of the most important lessons of my hero’s journey. Don’t be afraid to ask. The fact that Phil responded to an email with enthusiasm meant I was never scared to reach out to someone again. That doesn’t mean I haven’t had plenty of people ignore my reaching out, but when you don’t ask, you don’t get. In the years following that first success, I met educators working at the cutting edge, researchers around the world, professional athletes and actors, business leaders, and lots of people like me, just plugging away at their dream. It was that lesson that allowed me to even consider running the Hero Round Table. I knew that I’d built relationships with people across the globe who would gladly attend and speak at this conference.
The second role you need to fill is the cheerleader. This person is relentlessly positive. They love what you’re doing and sometimes want it to happen more than you do. You know that after a call with them, you’re going to be brought out of your most pessimistic mood. My cheerleader for the conference was Steve Wolbert. He doesn’t look great in a cheerleader outfit, but he fills all of the other requirements. One day I noticed, for the third time, a local business being lauded for their involvement in the community. I was in desperate need of sponsorship, so I decided to reach out to them. One of the guys helping me run the conference said he knew someone there – someone he’d coached on a kids basketball team. A call was made and all of a sudden I was asked to be at a meeting in an hour. The meeting was with Steve and he already saw the benefit of the event. In fact, he saw it better than I did. From that day he didn’t stop cheering me on, telling everyone he met what a great thing this was going to be, and generally shaking pom poms in every direction. Without my cheerleader, the conference would not have happened.
The third role is the action figure. We all need someone who just gets things done. When everyone else is talking about dreams and ideas and plans, the action figure is doing stuff. This was my friend, Candace Crane. Nine years into my hero work, she’s still not sure what it is that I do or why. That didn’t stop her from stepping in to help with the first conference. While the rest of the team was dreaming, she was planning. “Where’s your budget?” she said. “Budget?” I said. While others were debating colour palettes, she was creating check in processes. While some were panicking over what to do about our lack of batteries, Candace went out and bought some. Without my action figure, the conference would not have happened.
The fourth role is the inspiration. This is the person who makes you want to be a better you. They either act as a role model or a coach – sometimes both. You might be aiming to be more like them, or they might be great at getting you to aim higher. My inspiration came from reaching out again. Christian Long was a teacher in Texas who was doing cool things on the internet with his students. We kept in touch for a few years ad one year he invited me to attend the TEDx conference he was running in Ohio. Christian was not just a teacher, he’s an internationally sought after education consultant. His conference gave me something to aim for. It was filled with amazing speakers (some of whom I poached). It was flawlessly branded and included things like a two-hour lunch break for discussion and a famous DJ for music. It showed me what a conference could be. Without my inspiration, the conference would not have happened.
Every team needs a thinker. This is the brains of the outfit. The thinker solves problems and comes up with genius ideas. I like to think that I am smart enough to come up with every idea, but I know that’s not going to be the case all of the time. Luckily, I had Aaron Romoslawski on hand through the entire journey. He was able to look at the big picture and identify issues and potential problems. Not just that, he provided solutions. Some people are very good at pointing out issues, but not always good at thinking about solutions. Aaron’s analytical mind solved problems for us before anyone else had even noticed we had a problem. Without my thinker, the conference would not have happened.
The friend is the final position to be filled. This is the person who sticks with you through thick and thin. There’s a good chance you are thinking to yourself that you’ve already got this position filled. However, there can be a difference between a friend and a friend on your journey. Many of us have friends who aren’t supportive of our efforts. They may think we’re crazy or they’re just not interested in the topic. Sometimes you might have to look outside of your circle of friends for the friend on your journey. I was lucky enough to have a number of people who repeatedly said, “what can I do for you?” A friend can listen to you vent. They can put an arm around your shoulder and remind you to breathe. They can bring you whiskey before you realise you need it. Without my friends, the conference would not have happened.
Recently, I saw a quote on my social media stream. It said, “You can do anything if you ask the right people to help.” Whether you’re trying to blow up the Death Star, see the wizard, launch a nonprofit, or create change in your community, it can happen if you pick the right team.
I’d like you to write down the names of the people in your team. Beside each role, add a name. It’s likely that you won’t have a name for each role. That’s normal. My challenge to you is to fill those gaps. It won’t be easy. It won’t be quick. But it will be worth it. And remember my biggest lesson – ask. If you see a potential mentor, ask them questions. If you see the perfect cheerleader for you, ask if you can hang out with them. Take action now so that you have a team ready to accompany you on the journey ahead.
About the author:
Matt Langdon is the founder of The Hero Construction Company, a non-profit dedicated to heroism promotion and education in schools. It is an innovative program that helps combat bullying, anti-social behaviour and foster moral responsibility, greater academic and social engagement, and overall well-being in school communities. Matt is also the organiser of the annual Hero Round Table, the world’s leading community and research conference on heroism.