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November 6, 2012

Be the Hero

Three Powerful Ways to Overcome Challenges in Work and Life Noah Blumenthal ©2009, 2012 Noah Blumenthal Adapted by permission of Berret-Koehler Publishers ISBN: 978-1-60509-000-9

Introduction Most everyone feels stressed, frustrated, or out of control at work or at home at some point. In Be the Hero, Noah Blumenthal challenges people to transform self-defeating thoughts and victim behaviors into heroic actions and become “everyday heroes.” At the hearts of everyday heroes are the stories that they tell themselves about other people, their situations, and themselves. These stories are so powerful that they have the ability to shape both emotions and behavior and lead to personal and professional success.

Change Your Stories, Change Your Life No one is free from challenges. Work and life events sometimes leave even the strongest individuals feeling powerless. There are some people, however, who seem to be at their best during the toughest times. No matter what happens, no matter the stress or challenge, they quickly recover and are positive,

energized, and take productive action. These people qualify as everyday heroes. Everyday heroes do not let life’s challenges bring them down. Instead they find a way to overcome their obstacles. They may not always succeed, but everyday heroes consistently act on the belief that they can do something to improve their situations and those of the people around them. Blumenthal believes that the way people think, the stories they tell themselves, determines happiness and success. These stories can make life positive, hopeful, and empowering or bitter, miserable, and hopeless. It is possible to choose how to respond to everyday events that might disappoint or frustrate and to react in a way that casts off the victim mentality, enabling people to act like heroes.

Business Book Summaries® November 6, 2012 • Copyright © 2012 EBSCO Publishing Inc. • All Rights Reserved

Be the Hero

Telling hero stories does more than change state of mind. These stories lead to actions that produce: • Career success • Improved relationships • More effective conflict resolution • Better adaptability to change • Stronger leadership • Reduced stress • Greater happiness There are three types of hero stories: 1. People Stories: Heroes feel others’ pain and try to understand their actions. Victims focus on their own pain and blame the people around them. 2. Situation Stories: Heroes see the best in their lives and appreciate what they have. Victims focus on what is wrong in their lives. 3. Self Stories: Heroes believe they can influence their lives and choose to take action. Victims believe nothing can be done to improve their situation. No one tells hero stories all the time. Everyone slips into the victim mentality occasionally. Part of being an everyday hero is acknowledging those lapses and shifting back to hero stories.

Noah Blumenthal

Key Concepts The secret to overcoming the daily challenges in work and life and becoming an everyday hero lies in the stories people tell. 1. People Stories: The hero sees other people’s challenges and feels empathy. The victim focuses on his or her own pain and blames others. 2. Situation Stories: The hero sees what she or he has in life and feels gratitude. The victim focuses on what is wrong in life. 3. Self Stories: The hero sees what can be done, feels hope, and takes action. The victim thinks nothing can improve. Having the mindset of a hero can lead to actions that produce: • Career success • Improved communication at work and at home • Reduced stress • Greater happiness

The Parable of Jeff The main text of Be the Hero, is a parable that follows the career of Jeff, who encounters unexpected challenges in both his personal and professional lives. The parable is designed to illustrate the concepts and lessons of hero stories.

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Information about the author and subject: Information about this book and other business titles:

Challenges of Work and Life

Related summaries in the BBS Library:

Jeff was experiencing a self-described funk at home and at work. At home, his nine-month-old daughter had colic and it was putting a strain on his relationship with his wife. At work, he was dreading his year-end performance appraisal with his boss, Yvette.

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Experiencing frustration was not something Jeff was used to. Normally things seemed to fall in to place for him. He landed a job with a large company and at the end of the first year was put into the company’s fast track program, where he spent three years rotating through all the different areas of the company. He

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found the assignments both exhausting and invigorating.

the meeting and asked to attend. At the meeting, Jeff’s team talked through their successes and their disappointments. He tried hard to solicit input from his team, but their input was limited. At the end of the meeting, he asked all of his team members for ideas for the future. When it was his turn to speak, Jeff gave a lengthy description of an idea and ended up taking up the remainder of the meeting.

While he was in the fast track program, he met his wife. They got married at the end of the program. Jeff also received a permanent assignment working in the marketing department, where he loved the combination of analytical and creative work. He was rewarded for his hard work by being named to a cross-functional team lookEveryday heroes don’t ing at cost-saving ideas for the on the belief that they company.

always succeed, but they consistently act can do something to improve their situations and those of people around them.

Jeff made a strong impression on Yvette, a company executive and member of the cross-functional team. Yvette offered Jeff a management position in her department—a stretch assignment—but Yvette was confident that he was up to the challenge and would adapt, even with a steep learning curve.

Within his first three months in the new position, Jeff’s top performer resigned. Shortly after that, one of Yvette’s peers found a big mistake in a report that Jeff’s team had prepared. A week after that, one of the company’s most important clients called to complain that one of Jeff’s team members had failed to send promised information. Jeff’s reaction was one of frustration and helplessness. He was constantly tired from being up at night due to his daughter’s colic, and he felt like he was working as hard as he possibly could at work. Toward the end of the year, Jeff decided to hold a planning meeting with his team. Yvette learned about

About the Author Noah Blumenthal, is president of Leading Principles, Inc., a coaching company that supports managers, executives, and CEOs in finding fresh perspectives and building heroic leadership for themselves and their organizations. He was named one of the “Top 100 Minds in Personal Development” by Leadership Excellence magazine.

At the end of the meeting, Jeff felt blindsided when Yvette told him that she thought his enthusiasm got the better of him because he spent the last ninety minutes of the meeting telling everyone what they were going to do for the year. Jeff was angry. He had asked for input while explaining his ideas and no one had spoken up. Yvette pointed out that no one had contradicted him, but no one had supported him either. Because Jeff’s tone was obviously angry, Yvette asked him to come back and talk with her when he could discuss it more calmly. Jeff left feeling that Yvette had it in for him, and he was frustrated and angry. People Stories The Monday after that meeting, Jeff was trying to complete his self-appraisal, but whenever he tried to work on it, his thoughts drifted back to the conversation with Yvette about the planning meeting. He left his office to get a change of scenery. In the lobby of his building he ran into Martin, who attended Jeff’s high school and had been a senior when Jeff was a freshman. The two caught up on old times, but when Martin asked about what Jeff was up to now, he felt the weight of his problems at home and work. He told his friend he was frustrated. Martin offered to meet him for lunch and handed Jeff a business card describing his job as “hero coach.” Jeff met Martin for lunch and told him about the tough year he had experienced at work and home. At the end of Jeff’s story, Martin asked him if he wanted to be angry. Jeff replied that he did not, but that was

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Be the Hero

how he felt. Martin told Jeff that his reaction was not actually a response to Yvette’s actions, but rather a response to his own story. Martin explained that the stories Jeff told himself determined how he felt and acted, which surprised Jeff. Martin told him that there were three types of stories, those about other people, those about situations, and those about self. He explained that if any of these stories were told the wrong way they could make people miserable. Told the right way, these stories could lead to feelings of happiness and might even make people more effective and successful.

Noah Blumenthal

themselves to people who have more. In contrast, the hero sees how many people have less. Looking inward is about choosing which aspects of life to focus on. Victims look inward and see what is wrong with their situations, but heroes focus on the good in their situations, which makes them happier and more effective.

Jeff listened, but asked Martin if this meant that he had to ignore the things that are actually going wrong in his life. Martin explained that it was not a matter of ignoring these issues, but actually a matter of how much time Jeff spent dwelling on the bad things. Thinking about and appreciating When you work in a company of heroes, communication the good things would lift Jeff’s increases, silos break down, and creative ideas multiply. You spirit and ensure that he would be experience greater camaraderie, openness to new ideas, and better able to respond to the challenges he was facing.

receptivity to change.

Jeff learned that victims tell themselves stories that bring them down, make them angry, and steal their ability to face challenges. To change stories, it is necessary to switch from victim to hero. Heroic stories lift up, energize, and provide the ability to take positive actions. The key is that heroes are focused not on themselves but on the people around them. They see what others are going through and determine how to help those people. In the case of Yvette, all Jeff could think about was how she was hurting him. He had never thought about the stress that she might be under or that she might be facing challenges of her own. By focusing on Yvette’s story, Jeff could develop the strength of empathy, which is what a hero feels, rather than the feeling of resentment, which is what the victim feels. Jeff also realized that he needed to apply this to his home situation.

Martin summed up situation stories by stating that the hero is the one who has the attitude that whatever just happened was not so bad. Victims believe the world is falling apart around them. Jeff thought about his own situation and realized that while he was not rich, he had a job paying a decent salary. He owned his home with a reasonable mortgage and was married to a wonderful woman. They had a beautiful baby who, although she cried a lot, was basically healthy. He also realized that recently his stories had been about his crying baby, fights with his wife, and his critical boss. These stories were making him miserable and ineffective. When Jeff thought about how much he loved his wife and daughter, he was more eager to help them. Jeff also realized that if he thought about how Yvette had helped the careers of previous people who held the same position he did, that he wanted to work harder for her.

Situation Stories

Self Stories

Martin and Jeff met again; this time to talk about “situation stories.” Martin began by telling Jeff that situation stories, just like people stories, could be told from the point of view of either a victim or hero. Victims compare themselves to others, always seeing what they do not have, which leads to feelings of envy, because victims only know how to compare

Jeff and Martin met a third time so that Martin could talk with him about “self stories.” Jeff opened the conversation by expressing some skepticism about the idea of victim and hero stories. While Jeff admitted that he did feel better when he used a hero mindset rather than a victim mindset when it came to the people and situations in his life, he also felt like the

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good feelings he experienced would be short-lived. Jeff believed that the people and situation stories seemed to suggest he just had to accept everything that happened, which did not seem right. Martin stated that this was a common feeling for people who had just learned about people and situation stories. Most people do not want to sit back and wait for life to change. This sense of unease is actually a sign that they are ready for the third story, which is the story that people tell about themselves. It is the story about what people can and cannot do. Those who have the victim mentality cast themselves as helpless, vulnerable, and weak. The correct response is to ask what the hero would do. In books and stories, heroes are faced with challenges that seem insurmountable, but they always seem to find a way to overcome them. Heroes find something that they can do to turn their situations around, then they act on it.

Jeff not to give up on the idea—even when stressed out or angry.

Resource Guide People are naturally skilled storytellers. Everyone’s personal stories are vivid, detailed, and convincing. They move the people who tell them to emotions and actions. The question is, are these stories moving people to the emotions and actions that they want? The transition to telling heroic stories will not be instantaneous. The skill takes time to build. Frequent practice makes a big difference. Blumenthal’s Resource Guide explores the lessons and tips discussed in the parable about Jeff and offers tools to people who want to carry these lessons into their day-to-day lives.

Your stories determine your happiness and success. When you think like an everyday hero, you open the door to new possibilities.

Jeff was a bit skeptical. There are not always simple solutions, and even after taking action, things do not always fall into line so easily. Martin reminded Jeff that he was not talking about becoming a superhero, and agreed that not every situation had a simple solution. The triumph may be experiencing personal growth rather than solving every problem. Jeff reflected on his old stories and realized that his old stories were all about him. He saw himself as the victim at work and at home and that made him feel that life was pretty awful. His new stories helped him to be more in touch with his daughter’s and his wife’s struggles. He also began to feel for his boss, and wanted to help her as well. But, he was still worried that he might become overwhelmed or intimidated. Martin asked Jeff what it would mean if he did become overwhelmed or intimidated. Would that mean he was not a hero? Jeff considered the question and said probably not. Heroes are actually heroes because they face challenges, despite feeling overwhelmed or intimidated. Martin told Jeff that this was correct and advised him that telling stories was tough. Like many other things it took practice, and Martin asked

Recognize Stories Out of sight, out of mind applies to many lessons that people learn. One way to keep the ideas behind people, situation, and self stories in mind is to create smart cards that list the ideas behind each type of story and to keep the cards handy. Build a Community Another way of keeping everyday hero stories in the forefront is to create a community of heroes. Include people who share the same lessons and point of view. Members of this community will ensure that the ideas become part of the common language and can also assist each other with crafting heroic stories when someone is struggling. Take Action In order to change from the victim to the hero frame of mind, it is important to practice this new behavior in a disciplined way. There are several ways to do this, including: • Keep a story journal. Record victim stories and then replace them with the heroic versions. • Create and use a mantra. Come up with a sentence or phrase that will bring about a positive frame of mind. Whenever a victim story is taking control,

Business Book Summaries® November 6, 2012 • Copyright © 2012 EBSCO Publishing Inc. • All Rights Reserved

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repeating the mantra can help to create a heroic story. • Call a Time-out. Recognize that thinking clearly is no longer possible and take a walk or some deep breaths. After calm returns, work on the hero story.

Situation Stories Self Stories Afterword: Find Your Heroic Inspiration Resource Guide

Hero Tips for Managers

Overview of Book and Online Resources

Managers can find many ways to apply the lessons of hero stories and to become stronger, more effective leaders. Here are five steps to creating a team of heroes.

Recognize Your Stories

1. Be the hero.

Hero Tips for Managers

2. Share heroic stories.

First Steps to Take Today

3. Hear a victim story and shift to a heroic story.


4. Reward heroes.


5. Make it a team effort.

About the Author




Build a Community of Heroes Around You Take Action to Encourage the Hero in You


Features of the Book Estimated Reading Time: 1–2 hours, 155 pages Be the Hero, by Noah Blumenthal, is for anyone who wants to become an “everyday hero” by focusing on becoming the type of person who, when faced with difficulty, still performs at their best. The book is divided into two sections: the fictional story of Jeff, a talented man who struggles with how to respond positively to adversity, and a Resource Guide. The guide offers tips and tools to move from thinking like a victim to thinking like a hero in real life. It includes “Be the Hero” smart cards to help remind people how to think like a hero in any situation. The book is meant to be read cover to cover and includes a comprehensive index. Blumenthal also provides an access code for readers to enter a special reader’s section of the book’s Web site:

Contents Foreword by Marshall Goldsmith Introduction: Change Your Stories, Change Your Life Parable Challenges of Work and Life People Stories Business Book Summaries® November 6, 2012 • Copyright © 2012 EBSCO Publishing Inc. • All Rights Reserved

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