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Defining Your Leadership Style: What’s Your Metaphor?

Bulldozer Working with Sand

Are you a bulldozer or a Tesla? I promise that question will make perfect sense in less than 60 seconds.

Investing the time to understand your personal leadership style can help you gain valuable insights that really pay off as you work to advance your career. When I guide my coaching clients through this process, I often ask them to tap into the creative sides of their brains. The results are always fascinating. And remarkably accurate. To help you take advantage of this exercise, I wanted to share some of my findings.

If I simply ask my clients to describe their leadership styles, I get these types of answers: supportive, goal-focused, flexible, hands-on, laid-back.

Very straightforward. But things really get interesting when I ask them instead to think of a metaphor for their current leadership styles. Cue the raised eyebrows and blank stares. Nervous laughter usually follows.

I explain that it’s a different angle for approaching the same challenge. It’s a creative exercise that requires sustained thought. A non-judgmental way to capture the images they project as leaders.

After a little prompting, my clients inevitably come up with brilliant answers—responses that reveal much more about their roles and the way they view their contributions to their teams today. Here are a few examples…

Some people have described themselves as rugged car engines that work hard, never break down and keep things moving forward. I’ve also had clients say they were talented cooks who combined ingredients in a creative way to produce delicious meals. Others have positioned themselves as quarterbacks in a football game:  calling plays on the field, throwing passes and leading their teams to victory. Finally—you guessed it—I’ve had quite a few clients compare themselves to bulldozers, moving mountains of dirt and charging fearlessly through uneven terrain.

Fantastic answers, all of them.

From there, we take the next step with a follow-up question. What metaphor best describes the ideal, improved state of your leadership style—incorporating your goals or visions for the future?

Inevitably, those metaphors get a dramatic upgrade.

The car-engine people would ideally prefer to be navigation apps. That would elevate their purpose to charting the course for the organization, providing directions, and giving the “engine” a specific destination or purpose.

The cooks wanted to become chefs, responsible for designing unique menu options that would earn five-star reviews from the toughest restaurant critics. The slicing and dicing could be delegated to those at the junior level.

The quarterbacks wanted to be promoted to head coaches, viewing the game from the sidelines to take in a broader perspective. More specifically, they would direct the offensive and defensive coaches to develop stronger game plans to win more championships.

And what about the bulldozers? Their goal was to go beyond the heavy lifting and become a vehicle associated with greater innovation and advanced technology. Perhaps a Tesla. With high performance, peak efficiency and sleek design, they could help the team move forward and handle adversity in a whole new way.

So what’s the best metaphor for your leadership style?  Which metaphor applies today? And which one would you like to apply in the future?

Write them down. Be specific. Have fun with it! Are you the script writer or the movie director? The lead violin player or the orchestra conductor? The traffic cop or the Chief of Police?

Digging in to the powerful imagery of a metaphor is one of the best ways to help you get clarity about your leadership style. More importantly, it can give you a vivid reference point as you begin making changes to accelerate your career. I hope you’ll give it a try, and I’d love to hear about your results.

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