The Key Tool Leaders Should Use to Improve the Way They Lead
A couple of weeks ago I was in the position to deliver a difficult message to a leader in one of my client organizations. In advance, I had put quite some thought in how to formulate the message so that the leader could actually hear what I had to say about his organization. I wanted to engage him and emotionally touch him with what I had to say. I realized that using a metaphor in a story that he could personally relate to, would be most powerful and effective.
“Imagine a family with some children, boys and girls of all ages, and a couple of parents. One parent, let’s say the dad, is working hard to take care of his family. He is away from home 4 out of 7 days for work in a different city. The other parent, let’s call her mom, is at home and so busy with running the household and taking care of the little ones, that she forgets to pay attention to the teenagers in her family. Her overwhelm, which manifested as her being distracted, not listening and quite a bit stressed impacted all the kids.”
The leader, I was telling this story to, looked at me with playful suspicion: “Did you talk to my wife?” I had not, but I had just finalized an in-depth interview process with 20 of his employees and managers to analyze the quality of leadership, communication and collaboration in his team. “What do you think the kids will do?” I asked him. He smiled and nodded: “They will rebel.” He got it that I was talking about his organization.
As Ghandi said it so wisely: “If you want something really important to be done, you must not merely satisfy the reason, you must move the heart also.” Speaking in metaphors creates relationships in which the sender and the receiver engage in a creative process of making sense of the situation at hand. Isn’t this the essence of leadership?
Leaders, who are using metaphors mindfully engage people in sense making at a cognitive as well as an emotional level and therefore improve how they lead. However, leaders who don’t understand the impact they have with the metaphors they use, often unconsciously, can do more harm, deflect creative thinking, and potentially manipulate their followers. (Ken Parry, International Leadership Journal, 2008)
We speak in metaphors often in our daily lives, and we don’t recognize many of them anymore. Yet metaphors, used consciously, play a significant role in the manifestation of leadership, due to the powerful sense-making they facilitate.
Which powerful metaphor have you used recently and what was the impact on “the receiver?” Let me know in the comment section!