I came across this little anecdote in and article in the latest edition of Strategy + Business. It illustrates how savvy leaders know how to use metaphors and symbols to get their point across effectively and strengthen company culture. David Ogilvy is the founder ofOgilvy & Mather, one of the most successful advertising agencies in the world.
“… it wasn’t just what David Ogilvy said that made his principles special; it was also how he said it. … Ogilvy communicated his principles in speeches and memos, then went beyond words, using quirky flourishes — like the Russian matryoshka dolls that directors found at their seats at one board meeting. Opening the nesting dolls, each smaller than the one before, every director found the same message typed on a piece of paper inside the tiniest doll: “If you hire people who are smaller than you are, we shall become a company of dwarfs. If you hire people who are bigger than you are, we shall become a company of giants.”
“Hire big people, people who are better than you,” Ogilvy demanded. “Pay them more than yourself if necessary.” Russian dolls became part of the culture.
So did Ogilvy’s penchant for eccentric terminology. Region directors were “barons.” Group creative directors were “syndicate heads.” Bright stars with management potential were “crown princes,” whose careers should be developed. At the other end of the spectrum were “barnacles,” those who were not contributing or were past their prime and had to be scraped off to keep the ship moving. They were often scraped by others, not by Ogilvy, who was admittedly better at principle than practice on occasion. (When one such barnacle was named to the board at Ogilvy’s insistence, a director commented, “When the music stops, we add chairs.”)”