The Metaphors of Leadership

Oddly enough, leadership, especially great leadership, is described in metaphors not details. In the November 2011 Harvard Business Review, authors Peter Fuda and Richard Badham explored the metaphors of leadership: Fire, Snowball, Mask and Movie

Fire represents ambition to create and sustain organizational transformation. It can be triggered by crisis or desire, whichever one works. Crisis may get you started, but desire for achievement will sustain it. 

What's your fire? 

Snowball is about momentum. Warren Buffet's biography was called The Snowball. Jim Collins calls it the Flywheel Effect. The snowball of average performance can roll you into bankruptcy. The snowball of excellence can roll you into market leadership. The act of consistently directing attention toward the desired outcome adds to the momentum. 

Where's your snowball taking you? 

Mask is about authenticity. Is the face you present to the world the real you? Some leaders use their mask to conceal their inadequacies or to present a "leadership" persona. But employees know when you're wearing a mask, so it creates doubt, lessens productivity and increases turnover. It also creates internal conflict that inhibits your effectiveness. 

What mask are you wearing? How would dropping it enhance your effectiveness? 

Most people get stuck doing the same thing over and over again. Movie is about reviewing and "tape editing" your performance to identify ways to improve. Jim Collins calls this the mirror and the window. Poor leaders look out the window and blame their staff for poor performance. Great leaders look in the mirror to see how they could change their outcomes. 

What can you learn from your internal movies? How do you succeed? How do you fail? What can you change to get the result you want? 

Metaphors like these are a simple and effective way to discuss and analyze what's working and what isn't, both personally and professionally. 

What metaphor could you use to initiate open discussion with your family, friends and coworkers? 

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