Mental images make a difference.

In Creativity, Inc., Ed Catmull (President of Pixar Animation and Disney Animation) writes about the value of leadership metaphors; images that sustain us in our leadership roles, whether we are parents raising children, visionaries for non-profit organizations, or running a business.

sailingFor some, leadership looks like back-packing in the wilderness. For others, it’s the ups-and-downs of marathon running. For still others, it might look like sailing. When we embrace a specific metaphor, it has a way of carrying us through both the good and the challenging times.

One colleague of mine likes to describe his leadership in terms of mountain climbing. The goal is to reach the top and see the Promised Land, but he knows that there will be times and places of great exertion and sometimes confusion on the way to the summit. Yet, the view from the top will make it all worthwhile.

Andrew (a colleague of Ed Catmull’s) said: “If you’re sailing across the ocean and your goal is to avoid weather and waves, then why are you sailing? You have to embrace that sailing means that you can’t control the elements and there will be good days and bad days and that, whatever comes, you will deal with it because your goal is to eventually get to the other side. You will not be able to control exactly how you get across. That’s the game you’ve decided to be in. If your goal is to make it easier and simpler, then don’t get in the boat.” (Creativity: 228)

Metaphors make a difference. They help us keep moving forward, despite adversity. They help us generate patience and endurance; whether that’s as parents raising children or as volunteer ministry leaders in the local church.

What might be a helpful metaphor for you to embrace? Consider something that already connects with a passion or experience that you have. How might it serve as an anchor for you when times are great … and when times are not?

David Timms serves as Dean of the School of Christian Leadership at Jessup.