A metaphor is defined as either “a figure of speech in which a word or phrase that ordinarily designates one thing is used to designate another, thus making an implicit comparison; or one thing conceived as representing another, such as a symbol”. On January 10, 2013, Dr. Sandy Suggart, President of Valencia College, delivered the keynote presentation at the Central Florida Christian Chamber of Commerce. In his speech, Dr. Suggart posed the question to the audience “what metaphor or metaphors do you use to describe your life?”
This question is so poignant that it deserves deeper exploration. When was the last time you reflected on who you are as a person? Not who you want to be or who you profess to be, but who you really are at your deepest core? What metaphors can you use to describe your life, its meaning and your journey? Completing this exercise can elicit strong reactions or feelings from elation to disappointment depending upon what you discover about yourself.
As a leader, it is imperative to know yourself because who you are permeates your behaviors and actions every day. Try hard as you might, your true self will always bubble up to the surface and show itself. Your people live your reality even if you are doing your best to hide who you are from those around you. Your people can tell if you are being authentic, and they demand authenticity for them to be fully engaged.
Author Bill George first introduced the concept of authentic leadership in his 2003 book Authentic Leadership and explored it further in True North. George describes authentic leadership “as a leadership style that is consistent with a leaders' personality and core values, and that is honest, ethical and practical”. He describes authentic leaders as those who “is more interested in empowering employees than in money or personal power, and is guided by compassion and heart in everything they do”. Authentic leaders are dedicated to “continued personal growth and committed to building lasting relationships and strong organizations”.
This definition of authentic leadership is related to Jim Collins’ description of Level 5 leaders. In his book Good to Great, Collins describes humility as a key ingredient of Level 5 leadership. Through his research, he found Level 5 leaders challenge the long held belief that great results require a larger-than-life leader. He found the leaders who led their organization to sustained results possessed equal parts will and humility. "Level 5 leaders are a study in duality", says Collins, "modest and willful, shy and fearless."
These supremely successful leaders are clear as to whom they are, and who they are not. They don’t try to live a life divergent of their true being. They understand the metaphors that describe them to their core, and live their life, their entire life, aligned with those metaphors. Their people know who these leaders are, they know what to expect from them and in turn, give these leaders the best they have to offer.
Do you wish to live a life more aligned with your authentic self? The first step is to understand who you are at your core. To begin your journey to self-discovery, start by completing this simple exercise: open an Excel file and title five tabs with the main components of your life (family, career, faith, community, self). One each sheet, list the three to five metaphors that you believe best capture your reality in each component. Print off the pages and compare the metaphors. Look for both similar themes and divergent themes. Which themes are you proud of, which themes are propelling you to become the person and leader you want to be, and which themes are holding you back? Once you understand where you are, only then can you begin charting your course to authenticity and effectiveness and realizing your destiny.