The Power of Leadership Narrative Intelligence (NQ)

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 (ILA) 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 blogs that explore the role of archetypal narrative intelligence (NQ) in linking motivation, action, and leadership outcomes.


Blog 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. (For more information on archetypes and leadership, go to www.carolspearson.com). 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 new 2021 book, What Stories Are You Living? Discover You Archetypes – Transform Your Life, and the companionPearson-Marr Archetype Indicator® (PMAI®) 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 piece, 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.


Inner motivation


Plotline: Motivates Leadership Tasks

Be positive, cheerful, and inspirational, trusting of others and the future.

The Idealist

Embodies and reinforces individual and team values through inspiration, appreciation, and encouragement.

Face facts, trust common sense, prevent breakdown, treat everyone fairly.

The Realist

Identifies threats; appraises opportunities before acting to prevent or remediate them.

Be strong, protecting self and others, accomplishing goals, competing, and winning.

The Warrior

Fights for your people, resources, and mission fulfillment; builds competitive teams.

Compassionate concern for others, providing nurture, care, and safety.

The Caregiver

Establishes caring systems; models being kind to people; fulfills basic human needs.

Openness to the new, loving adventure, scouting out possibilities.

The Seeker

Pioneers by finding available options; accomplishes goals in individualistic ways.

Bring people together as a community that fosters friendship & quality of life.

The Lover

Fosters relationships, collaboration, shared commitments, and attractive spaces.

Imagine, innovate, create, and design things artfully, responding to inspiration.

The Creator

Encourages and implements imaginative solutions and innovative products/ services.

Get rid of what is counterproductive in order to realize a preferred vision.

The Revolutionary

Resources and prioritizes projects and avoids overload by weeding out outmoded policies. 

Take charge to make things work in safer, more orderly and efficient ways.  

The Ruler

Sustains and manages in a changing environment, regularly upgrades policies/procedures.

Enjoy life, free oneself and others from boredom, and have playful fun together. 

The Jester

Offers social time, humor, and wildcard brainstorming; promotes attitude of work as fun.

Follow curiosity in order to figure things out and discover what is demonstrably true.

The Sage

Evaluates evidence, analyzes situations, weighs options, and develops strategies for mission attainment.

Find and promote meaning in life and work, help people know they matter.  

The Magician

Orchestrates rituals of celebration and transition; builds consensus around a future vision and fuels the motivation to achieve it.


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; and
  • think complexly enough to meet the challenges of the 21st


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.


Carol S. Pearson, Ph.D., is the author of What Stories Are You Living? Discover Your Archetypes – Transform Your Life; Persephone Rising: Awakening the Heroine Within; The Hero Within, and Awakening the Heroes Within and coauthor of The Hero and the Outlaw ((on branding) and the Pearson-Marr Archetype Indicator™ instrument ( <a href="http://www.storywell.com">www.storywell.com</a>). Her most recent professional positions included Professor and Director of the Burns Academy of Leadership in the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland and President of Pacifica Graduate Institute. She is now an author, workshop leader, and regular blogger for Psychology Today, <a href="http://www.carolspearson.com">www.carolspearson.com</a>, and other sites.