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/