leadership incorporated blog

April 12, 2010

Inspired to Succeed: Every Leader Needs a Metaphor

My dear friend Lee (and her amazing family) are fighting lymphoma. Yesterday, her husband Jay sent an update to friends and family and shared with us the metaphor that they have chosen to help them get through this battle.

Turns out both of their families had prize fighters in their history and they are choosing to experience this challenge as a championship fight. As Jay puts it: “It honors our roots, brings us strength and it speaks in the kind of feisty language that we love…and our enemy, the cancer, deserves.”

Reframing their journey in the nuances of fighting imagery is helping them to process, prepare and do what’s necessary with grace, hope and clarity.

This image is bringing them all together with a shared vision of the entirety of where they are, where they’ve been and where they’re going.

Understanding the particular challenges of the middle rounds of a fight (where they see themselves now) is giving them a strategy for approaching the middle rounds of chemo: “save yourself, slow down to make sure you have what it takes in the championship rounds”

There’s a great leadership lesson for all of us in what they are doing.

Want to get yourself, your organization, your team, your family over, around under or through the brick walls that are blocking you? Whether you’re trying to turn your business around, find a job in this economy, overcome financial, health or relationship challenges, get some powerful metaphoric imagery that brings people together, gives you a new framework for seeing your situation, new ways to approach it, and creates the courage and strength to persevere.


  1. Make a list of words that describe your situation. Use words from the perspective of the challenge itself, also words that depict what is required of you and others. Add some words that reflect the outcome you want. Use action words and feeling words. Don’t hold back or edit!
  2. Walk away for at least a few minutes to refresh your mind. When you come back, look at the list as if you’ve never seen it before and let your eyes find the top 3-5 words that speak to you, that really get at the essence of the challenge, your experience and/or the outcome you desire.
  3. Brainstorm other situations that share some or all of your selected words. Feel free to refer to movies, literature, the news. You’re looking for the idea that connects straight to your gut. The one that excites you. The one that just feels right.
  4. Sketch out further similarities between your situation and your metaphorical situation that you can use as you move through the various stages of what’s required.
  5. Use it creatively.See this as the movie of your life. Have fun with it!

Here’s a brief list of overcoming the odds situations to get you started:

Running a marathon (or the Self Transcendence 3100 mile race)

Hunting big game

Scaling an ice wall

Climbing Everest

Building the pyramids

Playing chess with Bobby Fischer

Diving for buried treasure

Dodging Somali pirates

Sailing through a storm

Mastering an obstacle course

Outsmarting Voldemort

Carrying the Ruling Ring to its destruction at Mount Doom


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