Welcome to our mini-series Shadows and Light in Leadership.

Last time we talked about viewing life through metaphors.  Metaphors are a powerful way that we interpret and explain life. They bypass our mind and connect right to our heart. We feel it in our gut even while struggling to articulate it with our mouth.

Many decisions in life are made on the gut level, not the rational level. “Gut level” is the language of assumption and emotion, and this is where metaphors connect.  Some metaphors bring shadows to our leadership; other metaphors shed light. We should choose our metaphors carefully, as they can actually become self-fulfilling prophecies.

A common metaphor in our culture is life as a battle. The underlying metaphor is revealed in our language:

  • wins, losses
  • friends, enemies
  • tactics, strategy
  • competitors and allies
  • fight
  • do or die
  • armour, weapons

This language implies that the universe is essentially hostile. Operating from this metaphor makes us act like we are at war with the world, and everyone in it. It is evidenced in our behavior and attitude:

  • Aggressiveness
  • Have to win every argument, have the last word
  • Being first
  • Speaking before listening
  • Having more
  • Go big or go home
  • You hate losing

This conflict metaphor casts shadows in your leadership wake. People pull back from fully engaging with you. No point in bringing up alternate viewpoints or perspectives – you likely will “get shot.” Just “Keep your head down, do what you are told, and stay out of trouble.” Do you see the battle metaphor language being reflected back?

But there is another way to see life, that at the core of the universe is a relationship that is good, and which desires good for us. A Trinitarian God, described in warm relational terms: Father, Son, Spirit. A relationship that is:

  • Communal, caring, life-giving, creative
  • Non-coercive, gentle and yet powerful
  • Inviting and relational
  • Collaborative
  • Generously abundant

Viewing the universe from this perspective is transformative. It shows up in light-giving behaviors and attitudes:

  • You believe in people, trusting their intent even if their behavior is lacking
  • Inviting their input, believing they have something to offer that you don’t have
  • Believing that good is powerful and can overcome evil
  • Anticipating good
  • Hoping, believing
  • Acting with kindness and gentleness

Even business is beginning to see there is another way to do well, one that builds on trust and cooperation:

  • Remember when there emerged two models of encyclopedia? You could buy Encarta, backed by a huge corporation and millions of dollars; or go online to this free website called Wikipedia.  One model built on competition and power, the other on cooperation and goodwill.
  • How about GoFundMe? Over $5 billion raised though goodwill, trust and cooperation. Who would have thought that would work … unless you assumed that there is a lot of goodwill around.

But … I can hear legitimate objections raised to all this.

The world is not just a wonderful, benevolent place. There are times and places where it definitely seems like a battlefield. And you are right.

What is surprising is that often the world is antagonistic against this life-giving viewpoint. There are times when we do need to take on the metaphor of battle, and battle for the good. We have ended up in a battle that we did not choose.

But the weapons of light are so different:

  • Openness
  • Transparency
  • Kindness
  • Generosity
  • Forgiveness
  • Overcoming evil with good

So … if you want to be a light-giving, life-bestowing leader, take a good look at the core metaphor through which you see life. It’s a gut check that could transform your life.