The Magic of Metaphors: Tools for Leaders

This post originally appeared on The Center for Creative Leadership blog.

The Leadership Metaphor Explorer is a tool for helping a group or team think with more energy, insight, and creativity about the present and future of their work together.  As Director of OD for Ketchum, I have the privilege to serve as a facilitator of leadership team alignment workshops. We help teams carve out dedicated time to productively discuss issues and arrive at high-value decisions. In this work, I often call upon metaphor-based exercises to help participants make more meaningful, thoughtful contributions and foster intellectually interesting conversations.

One of my favorite tools is from the Center for Creative Leadership. Their Leadership Metaphor Explorer cards are ideal for helping a group think deeply about the aspects of leadership that resonate in their organizations today as well as their aspirations for leadership tomorrow. The cards offer an extensive variety of postcard-size illustrations depicting myriad leadership metaphors such as Ambitious Pioneers, Co-creating Musicians, and Motivational Coaches.

I recently used the set with leaders at all levels at one of Ketchum’s specialty businesses. The goal was to engage in a productive dialogue about the elements of leadership that would serve the business for their next phase of growth. We wanted to honestly assess how current strengths and limitations would factor in to their leadership development journey.

The group of 40 was divided into table teams of 6-8. Their task was to review the deck of cards and do the following:

  • Each person select one card that depicts a strong aspect of leadership in their agency today, and
  • Each person also selects another card that depicts an aspect of leadership in the agency they think is needed for the future.
  • Following discussion, each table selected 5 cards that they believed told the best leadership vision story, and presented those cards and that story to the larger collective.

The resulting stories each group told of the desired future state were comprehensive and vibrant.

One group told this story:

“As ambitious pioneers we began our journey … and have evolved into group of peaceful warriors … always going to have an entrepreneurial spirit … and while we are no longer pioneers, the fighter in us continues to exist … we need to become a group of supportive teachers … the challenge is that teaching is a trial by fire experience. Perhaps this is an area to build up and become stronger in, about how we educate and bring culture to life as well as teach each other new things … be interweaving streams, since we all come from different perspectives, different jobs, new environments … joining all these perspectives together we become one strong body of water … we are Ubuntu (I am because we are) … multiple bodies overlapping.”

I attribute the depth of the stories to the cards, which provide a shared language and rich landscape of vocabulary around leadership that the group would have been unlikely to access on their own.

Amanda is a 23-year veteran at Ketchum. In her current role as the leader of organizational effectiveness and learning and development, Amanda provides strategic direction and consultation on strategy implementation, team development and dynamics, organizational effectiveness, leadership team alignment, and personal productivity for the agency and its employees. She also serves as a certified executive coach and lead trainer for Ketchum University. Prior to her role at Ketchum, Amanda was a Director at Stromberg Consulting where she was an external management consultant for 13 years. She holds her Master’s in Organizational Psychology and Executive Coaching certification from Columbia University. Amanda received her bachelor’s degree in Communications from the University of Michigan Honors College. She lives in New York with her husband and daughter. She’s an accomplished home cook, avid reader and novice Netflix-binger.