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Using Greek mythology in leadership development: The role of archetypes for self-reflection

Schedlitzki, Doris; Jarvis, Carol; MacInnes, Janice


Doris Schedlitzki

Carol Jarvis
Professor in Knowledge Exchange, Public and Business Engagement and Innovation

Janice MacInnes


Steve Kempster


Deep, critical self-reflection is not easy (Reynolds, 1999). It requires time, space, courage and careful support and is often very difficult to achieve in the context of busy, demanding organisational lives where we are expected to be confident, strong decision-makers in the here-and-now. Yet, critical self-reflection on the past, present and future is crucial as it enables us to step back and evaluate our own and other’s actions and decisions in the context of our own and other’s needs, aims and values. The development of skills for self-reflection seems therefore an important task for organisations and we will – in what follows – suggest one way in which this could be achieved.
This chapter will evaluate the usefulness of working with Greek Mythology to enhance self-reflection through the discussion of an example of how the characteristics of Greek Gods and Goddesses have been used in a classroom based executive education setting to encourage critical self-reflection and engender deep conversations on notions such as leadership, followership, power and gender. Drawing on Gherardi’s (2004) view of myth as the most fundamental form of narrative knowledge, connecting past, present and future of humanity, we link throughout to existing contributions on the use of mythology in leadership development (e.g. Hatch et al., 2005, Schedlitzki et al., 2015), reflecting specifically on the role and usefulness of archetypes offered through mythology within management education and leadership learning. Of particular interest here is how cultural memory is embedded in and transmitted through myths and how the archetypal characters of myths are still relevant and applicable today (Schedlitzki et al., 2015). It is through the use of the metaphorical language of these archetypes that participants in leadership development may be able to see the complex and often paradoxical nature of human characteristics and behaviour, enabling a safe space for deep, critical self-reflection and identity work. Lessons from the use of these archetypes will be shared and particular attention paid to the ways in which they help to highlight the dualistic nature of personal strengths and weaknesses within working relationships and changing organisational contexts. Based on the experience presented here, it seems that working with archetypal characters from Greek Mythology enables participants, for example, to challenge existing norms of good and bad leadership by allowing them to explore how certain characteristics usually associated with strong/weak or good/bad leadership may have quite the opposite effect in different organisational contexts and in interaction with other colleagues.
The chapter will conclude with reflections on the efficacy of the workshop and show how for some participants, working with Greek Mythology in this setting has opened up new ways of seeing and evaluating leadership and helped them to re-assess existing relationships at work. It will also highlight that other participants have found it more difficult to embed this learning in their day-to-day practice. Finally, we reflect on how to deal with the range of emotional reactions of participants that may be triggered by this process of critical self-reflection.


Schedlitzki, D., Jarvis, C., & MacInnes, J. (2017). Using Greek mythology in leadership development: The role of archetypes for self-reflection. In S. Kempster, A. Turner, & G. Edwards (Eds.), Field Guide to Leadership Development, 91-102. Edward Elgar

Publication Date Jan 1, 2017
Peer Reviewed Not Peer Reviewed
Pages 91-102
Book Title Field Guide to Leadership Development
ISBN 9781785369902
Keywords Greek mythology, leadership development, archetypes, self-reflection
Publisher URL