“The ceiling of the regime is too low for me to stand!“ This lament by an elderly Libyan man in a bitter reference to the Qaddafi era struck me deeply. [National Geographic, February 2013]
I imagined a proud and capable man bent low beneath the oppression of that petty and dangerous regime. [A ceiling in place from 1969 to 2011, nearly the span of my lifetime.] Rather than being able to stand tall, breathe freely and live into a full and satisfying life, this man was forced to live hunched and constrained.
In my work with leaders I often refer to the ceiling they create for themselves, their teams and business. This ceiling reflects the limits the leader sets on those around, often unconsciously. In principle, the lower the ceiling, the lower the potential performance and happiness.
People beneath a ‘low ceiling’ leader, particulary within organisations, understand intuitively the dangers in out performing them. A few may rebel and be crushed, most comply to survive, others resign and flee. None of this activity creates an environment of high achievement, growth and success.
Leaders inevitably shape an organisation as a product of their own vision and awareness. This implies an important leadership imperative, the need for constant self development and evolution. If you stagnate, so will your team; and as you expand your horizons, so your organisation is enabled to expand and extend.
In the new Libya, may this Berber man now stand taller.
Thorin Oakenshield, leader of the dwarven company in The Hobbit, is my namesake. This connection has drawn me to Tolkien’s tale in many different ways. Recently I enjoyed watching the epic Peter Jackson film, the first installment of a trilogy, ‘living’ for nearly three hours in Middle Earth.
Over time I have come to appreciate Bilbo’s experience as the classic Hero Journey.
Joseph Campbell wrote about the archetypal cycle in his 1949 book, The Hero With A Thousand Faces. “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are encountered and a decisive victory is won; the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with [new] powers.” p30.
Bilbo is called to adventure by the Wizard Gandalf. Thrust unwilling and resisting into the company of dwarves, his early steps beyond the safety and comfort of his hobbit hole are clumsy and dangerous. Bilbo survives encounters with trolls, elves and goblins largely through the efforts of others.
Separated from his companions in the Misty Mountains, Bilbo descends deep into the heart of the range. In darkness he riddles with Gollum and wins a ring of power. From this point onward, Bilbo transforms from victim to emerging hero. Ultimately he is the key to the dwarven companys’ success in winning the return of the treasure stolen by Smaug.
I understand Bilbo’s riddling with Gollum to represent a psychological struggle with his shadow. Travelling deep within the mountain (into his unconscious) and wrestling with fear or doubt. In winning the struggle Bilbo discovers new powers and strength, represented outwardly by the magic ring.
Like Bilbo, we may need to be nudged into Life’s adventure. To cross the first threshold, leaving the security of the familiar and common. Through the trials and struggles we earn new insight and power. This is the timeless human pattern, the Hero Journey, identified by Joseph Campbell in the worlds mythological stories.