I recently met in Villars, an Austrian man who had been part of the team who designed in 1996, under Robert Kalina’s supervision, the first €uros bank notes which were circulated by the European Central Bank in 2002. Understandably, he was very proud of this achievement and took some of those older € out of his wallet: “What do you see?” he asked.
Luckily, he left me no time to respond and make a fool of myself and continued: “Look on the one side, do you see these closed doors? They are the symbol of what Europe would be without the ideals of the European Union, a series of closed doors, turfs and territories which would lead to selfishness, narrow-mindedness and ultimately conflicts… But what stands on the other side? A bridge, symbol of attending to, seeking to build relationship… Openness vs Closeness, Generosity vs Selfishness, Exploration vs Limitation.
The Austrian man had just demonstrated the power of symbolism. His excitement and translation of the bank note powerful meaning strongly impacted me. “How come, did I ask, that this symbolism is apparently hardly known? It is so powerful…” “Politicians and technocrats only see the technical media. Go and have a look on the site of the ECB… It is sickening” he added. And so did I the next day and, in fact, I first found no obvious traces of the banknotes’ symbolism. Rather, I found this clip, proudly advertised which… misses the point:
Nevertheless, going deeper on the site, I did find a resembling although slightly different version of the meaning behind the notes: “On the front of both series of euro banknotes, windows and doorways are shown. They symbolise the European spirit of openness and cooperation. The bridges on the back symbolise communication between the people of Europe and between Europe and the rest of the world.” So someone, somewhere at ECB knows about the symbolism but the European institutions seems to fail to communicate and engage through it.
Back to us, Business Leaders. How often do we miss the point of communicating our organization’s Purpose? How many symbols do we fail to see and use as we are fascinated by the technicality of what we do. Nokia was so powerful when “Connecting People” was a way of behaving, leading and the Purpose of this organization. The charm evaporated when the company I loved so much started to communicate and see itself as another smartphone builder. Just like great leaders strive on their personal “Deep Intent”, our organizations and the people who choose to dedicate their lives to it, also need to have a Purpose, communicate and live it.
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