The origins of Leadership Metaphor Explorer™

Bruce Flye is the talented artist and facilitator that helped us create LME. Here are his reflections of how it all got started.

I was there, but I’m still not completely sure what happened. Here’s what I recall. In early 2007 CCL invited me to graphically record their Crisis Leadership Forum, an event that is a story unto itself. On the second day I was approached by David Magellan Horth, one of the forum’s co-leaders, who asked if I might be interested in illustrating some metaphors they were working on. My initial reaction was one of alarm, and I barely contained my first thought: “I’m not a graphic artist and, furthermore, this is the first time I’ve ever done graphic recording!” Fortunately I went with my second thought and asked “Is this the style of illustration you have in mind?” as we looked at the work on wall before us. David said it was exactly what he had in mind, and from there we went to work. 

David and Chuck Palus provided an initial spreadsheet of 35 metaphors that were to be followed by an additional 25 or so still in development. Many of these early phrases prompted immediate images: Courageous Lion Tamers, Death-Defying Tightrope Walkers, Enlightened Gurus. I began generating sketches and e-mailing them in “for review and comment” as we say in the construction business, but I soon found I was in an environment to which I was absolutely unaccustomed. There weren’t many comments on the drawings, and instead they sent more metaphors. It took awhile to realize that I had stepped into a very open-minded culture that trusted emergent process. Over many months we did about 55 or so cards and my work was considered complete. Over all that time I had learned much about metaphors, and had also begun to find myself a style with a tablet PC. Back in my day job, when I was called in to address a very tricky relationship issue within our Health Sciences Division I found I could crank out my observations via metaphor pretty quickly. Then, when David sent a note and asked if I could do another 20 or so for LME, I found they could now flow out rather smoothly. Check that; the production could flow smoothly. Conception was another matter altogether! What were they thinking: Confluence of Agendas? Silicon Valley of Innovation? Network of Peers? Well, we did those, too, and not that differently from the first set in that it was highly virtual collaboration. There were occasional e-mails, and a phone call every now and then, but I didn’t appreciate what was going on until we noted at the end that we had completed this fairly involved product without ever meeting face to face.

A few of these have become remembrances of a special time in my life. One of the very few hints I was given about their intentions came from David for the Leaderless Orchestra: it’s about positive functioning. When he later saw the frogs on a pond he wryly commented “That’s some imagination you have there.” We actually talked in advance about possible content for Non-Violent Resistors, but while drawing it the violence was so palpable I sent it in asking them to look at it critically as I wasn’t sure they wanted everyone to have the sensations it gave me. And then the whole deck AND the experience of it coalesced into Ubuntu. Writing this now, it occurs to me that this work with David and Chuck has itself become a very powerful metaphor. But that’s another post.

About Charles J. Palus & David Magellan Horth

Charles J. Palus & David Magellan Horth are Senior Fellows at the Center for Creative Leadership. Many thanks to Steadman Harrison III, CEO of GO, and Senior Associate for the Center for Creative Leadership.
This entry was posted in Leadership Metaphor Explorer™ and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The origins of Leadership Metaphor Explorer™

  1. chuck says:

    David Horth offers these notes …

    LME began incubation around circa March 2007. We had been using a deck of words only metaphors for leadership in NCC and I believed there was the makings of a product in this but it needed to have pictures, more metaphors. March 2007 is when I met Bruce Flye the graphic facilitator for the Crisis Leadership Forum and persuaded him to create images for each metaphor. In parallel, Chuck and I conjured up many more metaphors and added some theoretical constructs (the snowman model) to classify each metaphor. Steadman helped us get the first “paper plate” decks together and I prototyped it in South Africa in September 2007 (one of the places where we got feedback). The fancier decks in tins came out in 2008 and soon after that went into CCLLabs. So in total about 4 years in the incubation process. No formal process for getting feedback about global use of LME. We simply asked people within the CCL community for their feedback as they used it in other countries and eliminated some cards, introduced some new ones, and modified some of the existing ones. At one point we did some kind of survey. Much of the feedback came to our blog – a mechanism we continue to use – including post commercialization for all the explorer series.


    David Magellan Horth
    Senior Designer
    Center for Creative Leadership
    1 Leadership Place
    Greensboro, NC 27410
    Bus: (336)-286-4525 Mobile: (336)-254-4541

  2. Pingback: A Brief History of Leadership Metaphor Explorer™ (VIDEO) | Leadership Explorer™ tools by the Center for Creative Leadership

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *