Metaphors and Leadership: How Do We Make Sense of This Crisis?

We live through story; so it’s important to pay attention to the metaphors we use about our leaders.

In the Washington Post yesterday, David Ignatius used a powerful metaphor to describe the sequestration crisis. It tells a difficult about leadership, about the crisis, and about what we need to do.

Co-dependent Leadership and the House GOP DUI

David Ignatius called the relationship between President Obama and the House Republicans “co-dependent,” and argued that the Republican recklessness is the equivalent of a DUI. “If this were really a case of chronic drinkers, the answer would be an intervention or to keep them off the road. In politics, the public gets to intervene through elections. We just had one, and the Republicans lost, big-time…. Republicans are so angry now that they don’t care whether the economy goes to hell.”

This from someone who isn’t a big fan of Obama and his policies. Co-dependent, “In my analogy he should take the steering wheel firmly in hand and drive the car toward the destination where most maps show we need to be heading.” Instead, he dared the Republicans to change, and they didn’t, or couldn’t. And he failed to change their repeated behavior that flung us over the “fiscal cliff.”


Co-dependent leadership names the crisis as one of abusive relationships, made worse by enabling bad behavior. It’s an intriguing story — each side of the divide is reactive, wounded, caught in an addictive pattern that is hard to break. It’s hurting the whole family and the extended community of our nation. And it’s a hard leadership pattern to break out of, because both sides have to suffer for a solution to surface — the addict has to hit bottom, and the enabler has to let go of enabling.

In this case, good leadership means transforming an abusive relationship, transforming the roles each side plays in the relationship. The sequestration in this case is a way of hitting bottom so everyone can see — not just the enabler, not just the addicted party, but everyone. And everything has to change then. Because it’s just wasn’t working the way it was.

That’s a powerful leadership metaphor. One full of grief, strength, discovery, and ultimately, possibility — if we listen to the lessons of hitting bottom.

The one good thing about hitting bottom is that we can push up to the surface, and start leading from shared responsibility and a common ground.

Sometimes there’s nowhere to go but up, as long as we do the healing work, too. This is one quality of Aloha Leadership — taking responsibility and allowing relationships to heal while building bridges helps leaders move beyond co-dependency so they can take action — individual and collective, for the good of all.

If David Ignatius leadership metaphor holds any truth for Obama’s choices, then the fierce side of aloha is what’s needed for healing. Aloha is about doing right with what is, not some idealized reality or relationship. And even though we think about aloha spirit as a kind of love, it’s so much more. It’s the love and responsibility for community, not just person-to-person; relationships and individuals are valued because they share a sense of integrity and commitment to core values that build trust and real solutions.

Leaders who take action with aloha break through negative patterns with fierce compassion. That’s what’s needed to break through this kind of deadlock, where we feel as though we’ve hit bottom, where bad behavior and hard lines threaten to derail us.

It’s only a story — but it’s a powerful one, that points us toward a solution towards healing our relationships and making better choices. Contentiousness and righteousness are as politically addictive as crack — and as disappointing in the long run.

So what’s the rehab program we need? Oh, that’s a big question, isn’t it!? Let’s start with aloha, and go from there.


  1. […] week I wrote about David Ignatius use of that metaphor to criticize Obama’s strategies dealing with an out-of-control GOP.  Building on that […]


  2. […] did adultery become a business sin? So simple and yet so complex! Indeed, it may be time to ask, what hath leadership storytelling wrought? Tags: adultery, Bathsheba Syndrome, David Syndrome, lead, leader, leadership, leading, Marcia […]


  3. […] Metaphors have power. If the story behind your relationships is healthy and sustainable, the Entrepreneur Magazine advice holds! […]


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