We all have symbols in our lives. As nations our flags and landmarks are two examples; as organizations logos or specific stories or situations may be symbols; and as individuals perhaps a picture, award or collectable fits this description. These symbols can remind us of our beliefs, of our loyalties, of our accomplishments and much more. Whether physical like a flag, symbolic like a story, or memory-anchored like a picture these canp0o-p['; serve us in powerful ways.
None of this is new or revolutionary to you.
What may be revolutionary to you though is how we can use these symbols to our advantage as individuals and leaders.
Let me start with some examples.
The Rock. The Rainmakers organization in Indianapolis recently began a tradition at their events where the leader brings a rock, and writes on it "Be More, Serve More" (a part of their mission and purpose). Then during the meeting all participants sign the rock. At some point in the meeting that rock is presented to someone in the group who has made a difference, lived the Rainmaker's ideals or is in some other way deserving of the recognition. Started as a way to reward and recognize without breaking their budget, it now is a powerful part of the organization's culture. It also is a highly valued award, meaningful in many ways to each recipient.
The Bands. In anticipation of my new book Remarkable Leadership we had green rubber wristbands (ala the Lance Armstrong Livestrong bands) made that say "I am Remarkable!" We purchased these and give them to people because we believe in the message that people are remarkable and that they need to be reminded. I can tell you that, having worn one of these bands daily for nearly two months so far, it is a powerful reminder. While it isn't a conscious reminder each time I look at it, I consciously notice multiple times a day and it reminds of that fact for myself and, perhaps for the point of this article, it reminds me in a tangible way of our mission at the Kevin Eikenberry Group - to help people reach their remarkable goals.
The Red Herring. Have you ever been to a meeting where the group got off topic? (Sorry for asking a silly question.) I had a client once who called those side topics red herrings - things that weren't the real issue at hand. That phrase caught on within the team and soon someone showed up with a plastic red fish at a meeting - and dubbed it the red herring! The team decided to use the fish as a reminder of red herring topics - anyone could playfully toss the fish in the direction of someone if they thought a conversation was off topic. This gentle reminder has helped this team run more effective meetings for a long time - in large part because of a symbol.
The Stone. I carry a small stone in my pocket everyday to remind me of the importance and value my wife and family play in my life. Do I "know" that I love and value them? Of course I do. But this stone, this symbol, grounds me on a regular basis. I find myself holding the stone often when making a decision or thinking things through. This touchstone to the most important things in my life helps me make better decisions and think more clearly. It isn't the stone itself that is helping; it is the meaning and message it signifies to me that makes all the difference.
We can draw much from these examples. First, notice how symbols can serve as a recognition or a reminder or both. As an individual if there is something that you want to be reminded of a symbol can be a powerful way to remind yourself. The symbol need not be elaborate or fancy (notice the stone example above), as long as the meaning and message attached to it is valuable.
The same is true in organizations - the physical representation doesn't have to be glossy, shiny or valuable - a rubber fish or a retaining pond rock is certainly none of these. Again, the power comes from the meaning and message.
Does this mean that we no longer need to buy watches, plaques or awards? Not necessarily, but remember that the $100 or $500 plaque may mean nothing (or even be counterproductive to the intended goal). Have you ever or do you know anyone who received a plaque or recognition that didn't value it for some reason? If so, the disconnect comes from a lack of meaning and/or sincerity and has little or nothing to do with the physical manifestation.
Symbols are powerful and can aid us personally and organizationally as we attempt to improve or move toward valuable goals. Use them wisely and sincerely and this underutilized tool could become instrumental in your future success.
Kevin Eikenberry is the Chief Potential Officer of The Kevin Eikenberry Group, a learning consulting company that provides a wide range of services, including training delivery and design, facilitation, performance coaching, organizational consulting, and speaking services. Web: www.KevinEikenberry.com