Metaphors are a way to rapidly understand a leader’s beliefs and ideas about what they deem to be positive, authentic leadership. The language a leader uses provides evidence about what has been infused into their deep sub-conscious. This drives their thoughts, feelings and behaviours as a leader. Your leadership metaphor should translate to very precise behaviours and choices.
Why are leadership metaphors so influential?
1. They are generative. Metaphors allow room for interpretation because they allow others to visualise and are therefore uniquely translatable to each person’s world.
2. They take complex ideas and make them understandable. Metaphors connect simple and complex ideas because they are most often created from our everyday experience of the world.
3. They are universal. The familiarity of metaphors allows us to talk about them no matter our background or upbringing. This means metaphors invite diversity in all dimensions, including age, gender, ethnicity and religion.
What is my leadership metaphor?
Eight years ago, I was privileged enough to encounter a memoir of an elderly man containing fragmented memories that belonged to him as a young boy. He, whilst dragging his little brother through the mud, survived world war 2. What I didn’t know at the time, was that 6 months later, the elderly man would pass away. Luckily for me, I had the opportunity to sit down and ask questions about the inspirational and at times devastating story. I was intrigued by the way in which he found a way to bounce back after losing everything that meant something to him. His parents, his extended family, his hobbies, his education, his home, his identity.
I asked a simple question: How, after all of this, did he find a way to thrive and how did he still have the capacity to lead an organisation and give to others until he passed?
He responded with a brief story about the non-Jewish family who took he and his brother in, under no relation except for being a friend of a distant cousin. If found by the Nazi soldiers, the only possible negative consequence for this family was death. The most positive result was that the boys survived. He felt as though he owed it back to this family to positive influence and give to others as a life goal. This was his positive, leadership wake. This man was my mentor, my hero and my grandfather.
As a result, my leadership resembles a wake that a boat leaves behind itself. Depending on the direction, design, strategy, speed, and connections I make through leadership behaviours, the wake I leave will produce anywhere from a minimal flow, rippling chop or swelling waves of significant size.
I want to leave a positive wake on allied health and society at large. I want to leave it in a better place than when I arrived.
By being intentional in defining your leadership brand. What will your leadership legacy be? One way or another, you will leave a wake behind you.
I leave you with 2 questions. What type of wake do you want to leave behind? What is your leadership metaphor?
Director at Osteopathy Australia