JumpStart Tough Conversations with Metaphors

Once I was running a change program and struggling with a client who was heavy-handed in his leadership. It seemed to me that he was creating resistance with his authoritarian approach and thereby alienating his most important constituents. We had discussions, but they did not lead to any satisfactory changes. I took this issue with me on a long walk on the C&O Canal in Washington, D.C.

While strolling along, I saw aggressive plants coexisting with the other wildlife and noticed two things. First, all plants were driven by the same life force: the desire to thrive. Second, some of the more aggressive plants were wiping out the others, taking over their sun space.

I brought these observations back to my client and used them to jump-start a conversation about his intentions. It was a successful conversation that led him to reflect on his leadership style and results. He decided to change some of his behavior and back off a bit.

The metaphor gave us something to look at together. Instead of facing off, we were facing the same direction.

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