Building Heroic Organizations: Modern Temples to Archetypal Values

Heroic leaders are a modern equivalent of temple builders. Heroic enterprises stand for something—expressed in values and a mission that are not just tucked away in a drawer but are tangibly obvious in how the organization functions. Just as the ancients built temples to honor gods and goddesses associated with desirable human qualities like caring, artistry, healing, or joy, heroic organizations keep alive archetypal human values as they also provide valuable functional products and services. Such organizations create an attractor field that leads people to invest in their enterprises, buy their products or services, contribute to their philanthropic work, vote for them, or otherwise support what they do—all because those involved feel something important, solid, and worthy at the root of it.

Heroic Organization


A Deep Dive Analysis

Heroic leaders take the time needed to understand emergent motivations and strengths in their organizations so that they know what kind of temple they are building and how to realize that promise. This is essential, because most change efforts and many whole organizations are unsuccessful as a result of cultural problems—that is, organizations fail to follow Socrates’ injunction to “know thyself.” Happily, modern depth and organizational psychology can be of assistance in efforts to understand organizations, groups, and individuals in a deeper, more perceptive way. Recognizing the archetypes in your organizational culture is a bit like seeing the larger part of an iceberg, hidden beneath the surface, which you ignore at your own peril and that of others. Archetypes help us decode what is invisible on the surface of organizational life.

Discovering your organization’s core archetype is not only a tool for branding; it also is the maypole around which all of your stakeholders can dance. In addition, the archetype reflects unconscious as well as conscious desires and assumptions about “how we do things.” It generally is supported by archetypes that motivate each of the four critical areas of the everyday work of the enterprise, for a total of five archetypes—one core and four supporting. Heroic enterprises that are centered on a core meaning and mission that matters (1) are productive and high achieving, (2) develop and refine structures that support the work, (3) foster collaboration and community spirit, and (4) promote continual learning, growth, and innovation. They do this more effectively when one archetype in each of the following categories—learning, productivity, community, and stability—provides the motivation to fulfill these key organizational functions.

Learning Innocent Explorer Sage
Productivity Warrior Revolutionary Magician
Community Everyperson Lover Jester
Stability Caregiver Creator Ruler
Foundations Innovation Consolidation

  • Left Column: Labels for the four capacities every enterprise needs in reasonable balance to succeed.
  • Bottom row: Labels for ascending columns: archetypes needed at different stages of organizational development.
  • Core archetype that provides meaning: pick the one that corresponds to what your enterprise is most dedicated to being, living, and promoting in the world.
  • You can click on any archetypal name to read about it.
Check out the IBM KCIS to find out about archetypes that provide energy for essential organizational efforts.

Results can be utilized in branding and marketing (see Archetypal Branding); recruitment, retention, and employee engagement efforts that sustain high morale and loyalty; and coordinated leadership, team, and organizational development efforts tailored to the organization’s culture, values, and strengths. They also can be of use in more focused and efficient management, decision-making, problem solving, and clear priority setting.

In the Publications section, check out The Hero and the Outlaw for discussions of branding and delivering on the branding promise, Mapping the Organizational Psyche for more on organizational archetypes, and Persephone Rising for the importance of gender balance in organizational cultures and leaders who combine the best of traditional masculine and feminine qualities.