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The Power of Leadership Narrative Intelligence

Matching motivation with story and capacities.

Image by Jill Wellington from Pixabay
Source: Image by Jill Wellington from Pixabay

I’m inspired by Quakers who call on one another to answer the question: “What is mine to do?” They ask this not just once, but in an ongoing way. As we reenter the post-pandemic world, how can we be optimally responsive to the crucial match between outer needs and our authentic motivations? What is ours to do?

The theme of this year’s International Leadership Association global conference calls us to reimagine leadership for our time. For me, this is also a call to reimagine one’s own leadership. A psychodynamic approach can encourage us to reflect and then act from the inside out. If we don’t, and we come up with abstract ideas only, we may fail to embody them—just like New Year’s resolutions or organizational visioning processes that end up in a drawer, accomplishing nothing.

This is the first of two posts that explore the role of archetypal narrative intelligence (NQ) in linking motivation, action, and leadership outcomes.

Post One: Matching Motivation With Story and Capacities

Most leadership theory tends to focus on what leaders do rather than how they want to do it. Psychodynamic leadership theory, which is rooted in Jungian and archetypal psychology and its application, fills this gap with expertise about the inner life. Archetypal (universal) narratives shape our thinking and feeling into plotlines that then guide what we do. These, however, can be more habitual than motivating. When the outer life mirrors our inner desires, energy and passion are released that fuel aliveness in what we say and do. Living such narratives develops life and leadership competencies, which, as they continually develop and evolve, can lead to various forms of mastery.

I created a 12-archetype human development system, beginning with six in the 1980s, described in The Hero Within, and expanded to 12 in the early 1990s described in Awakening the Heroes Within. These 12 archetypes are ones that have been seen to promote human evolution, from the most ancient of times until now. I called these archetypes heroic, meaning they are committed to the greater good as well as one’s own. I have been working with these archetypes with individuals and groups ever since. In the process, I’ve expanded my ability to apply this basic theory to leadership. How? By studying leadership theory, taking on academic leadership positions, directing the Burns Academy at the University of Maryland, and by co-authoring books on organizational branding and organizational development and designing and editing The Transforming Leader.

My 2021 book, What Stories Are You Living? Discover You Archetypes – Transform Your Life, and the companion Pearson-Marr Archetype Indicator assessment, build on this background. These are available to the general public, as everyone today should be trained to think like leaders. The book and the scoring protocol of the instrument are informed by leadership theory and practice as well as by psychodynamic psychology. In this short post, I hope you’ll discover ways to link who you are inside with what the world needs from you, thus promoting genuine personal fulfillment.

The following chart includes inner desires in the first column that are prompted by the archetypes in the second. Because the human mind makes meaning through narrative, the final column links such narratives with examples of needed organizational or community leadership tasks. Take a moment to scan the first column and select the motivations that are most true for you at this point in your life, perhaps placing a star next to them. Then, moving to the third column, put a check next to all the tasks you are good at doing, and stars by any or all that make you feel as if you are at home and truly yourself when you do them. You can cross out any that absolutely are not you.

Carol S Pearson
Source: Carol S Pearson

Being aware of the archetypal narratives you have lived and are living can support your ability to succeed in the leadership capacities listed below. These capacities are ones that I believe to be part of a current leadership excellence consensus.

Leaders need to

  • be authentic
  • deal well with others, however different they might be
  • have the flexibility needed to respond to various and fast-changing situations, cultures, and environments
  • organize groups and teams to get things done
  • balance inner with outer awareness, to avoid being blindsided by what is not anticipated
  • think complexly enough to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

To help you apply these ideas to yourself, you can make use of what you have starred, checked, and crossed out in the table above. Living your archetypes consciously—those most active in you, those that serve as secondary supports, and those gestating until you need them—can make you a more successful leader.


For more information on archetypes and leadership:

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