One of my favorite landmarks in St. Louis is the Eads Bridge. Built in 1874, it is an intricate structure that was one of the first steel bridges in the United States. It is much more beautiful than the concrete giants that span the Mississippi now, and at the time it was considered revolutionary…

…but the structural stability of steel was severely doubted. No one had ever seen a bridge built in quite this fashion and there were predictions that it would fall into the river when the first load of cargo crossed it.

To allay his detractors, designer and builder James Eads staged an elaborate grand opening where 14 locomotives and a real elephant crossed the bridge first. Not only did they make it safely, but the bridge is still operational today, almost 150 years later.

Eads could have performed stress tests or shared loads of data with the public, but nothing would have made the same impression that a live elephant did. While an elephant actually “only” weighs about 10,000 pounds, it is perceived as a giant. The elephant was the visual that made the safety real.


The next time you need to convince doubters or establish credibility for one of your projects, don’t forget about the elephant. The impact of visuals stomps all over the impact of data any day.

I'm the chief connector at leadership dots where I serve as "the string" for individuals and organizations. Like stringing pearls together to make a necklace, "being the string" is an intentional way of thinking and behaving – making linkages between things that otherwise appear random or unconnected – whether that be supervising a staff, completing a dissertation or advancing a project in the workplace. I share daily leadership dots on my blog to provide examples of “the string” in action. I use the string philosophy through coaching, consulting and teaching to help others build capacity in themselves and their organizations. I craft analogies and metaphors that help people comprehend complex topics and understand their role in the system. My favorite work involves helping those new to supervision or newly promoted supervisors build confidence and learn the skills necessary to effectively lead their team.

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