There are many complex concepts that are represented with a single, widely recognized symbol. A heart means love. A red cross represents humanitarian effort. Green means go. A jack-o-lantern instantly says Halloween. Countries can be indicated by their flag. Christianity is conveyed with a cross and Judaism with the Star of David.

None of these symbols are literal representations of the concept behind them, yet they have come to communicate as much as words convey. The use of emojis is perpetuating the use of visual shorthand as now there is widespread use of one picture to transmit a larger meaning.

I began thinking about this when I was looking for an image to represent leadership. I came up empty. Leadership is a mainstream term, but I was unable to locate a universal symbol for it. There are many pictures of literal leaders: hierarchies and individuals on a pedestal or at the head of the table, but nothing that widely connotes the overarching concept of leadership in a single symbol as a pineapple is to hospitality.

Not only is there a need for stronger leaders today, but it seems that a universal leadership image is required as well. Any ideas?


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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