Entries in Metaphors (1)

The Leadership Journey: A Picture Worth a Thousand Words...and Hours of Discussion



If life is a journey -- and leadership is a journey -- what are some of the key questions we need to ask ourselves along the way? 


They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. And that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. And that leadership is not a destination . . . but a journey. I’m not exactly sure who “they” are, but regardless of who said what, I think we can all agree that there’s something moving and memorable about this simple, beautiful, visual image — and something incredibly powerful about the thought-provoking metaphor that we call “The Leadership Journey.”

In my leadership workshops, as well as in the NYU graduate course I teach on “Transformational Leadership and Team Building,” we spend many hours discussing this image – and this metaphor.

“How can you spend so much time thinking and talking about one simple picture?” you might be wondering.

Well, to begin...

The windshield represents “the future”: Your vision. The road ahead. The road not taken. The unknown just over the horizon. The obstacles yet unseen. The fears yet confronted. The opportunities yet explored. It is the path you have chosen. The choices you have made. The choices still to be made. And the work yet to be done.

The rearview mirror represents “the past”: Where you’ve come from, and how you got here. Your successes and your failures. The experiences — and the baggage — you’ve brought with you. Your core values. Your regrets. The competition that may be gaining on you. The people, plans, dreams, or memories you left behind. And it is a constant reminder of the need to pull over periodically to take time, both literally and figuratively, for reflection.

The dashboard represents “the present”: it contains your dials and gauges and metrics. It tells you how well you are doing, and how much farther you have yet to go. How fast you are moving, or how slow. And it helps you to determine whether or not you have what it takes to make it to your next destination…or change course  As the legendary management guru Peter Drucker once famously said, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”

And what else?

What does the steering wheel symbolize, and the tires, and the engine, and the trunk? Should you continue to stay on this road, or take a different path on a road less traveled? Are you following your intended road map, or is your GPS warning that you might be speeding forward in the wrong direction?

It seems to be blue skies and clear sailing for miles to come, but are you prepared should you hit a patch of stormy weather, or bumps in the road, or a sudden, unforeseen traffic jam or detour up ahead?

Is the fact that there seem to be no other vehicles in sight a good thing or a bad thing? Are you so far ahead that you’ve left everyone else in the dust… or so far behind that you are out of the race? And where should you be, as a leader: in the driver’s seat, the passenger seat, the backseat . . . or perhaps not in this car at all?

With this many important things to think about, and so many questions yet unanswered, now is as good a time as any to pull over and reflect on where you are on your journey – and what decisions you may need to make to help you reach your desired destination for this year…and beyond.