Images & Symbols

Gerwig 2014-10-20

This weekend I was raking up a leaves and noticed a couple that stood out. They were red. It was drizzling rain outside and the leaves were slightly wet which really made the colors stand out. On the maple were leaves that were still green or orange. Some were various shades of colors, but only a couple were red, like those pictured above, and those had fallen to the ground.

Most of the time when I see a red maple leaf, I think of Canada. It’s one of their symbols. I’m reminded about trips I’ve made to Toronto and Quebec City, maple sugar candy, hockey and, of course, the beautiful colors of their famous maple trees in the fall.

Symbols are everywhere. Fashion brands, coffee chains, sports teams, military units, universities, countries and families use icons, logos, symbols, flags, crests, images, pictures, badges, insignia, “colors” and banners. They are used in advertising and storytelling. They are used to sell product and inspire us. They are used to help us honor the past and press toward a glorious future. They tell a story.

Songs and epic poems provide audible reminders of our past, where we came from and how we arrived at the present. Images and symbols do the same thing visually. They serve as shorthand for a story. They provide an abbreviated means of communicating our vision, our success, our values, our heritage and our achievements.

How do you feel when you see your national flag? The logo of your favorite sports team? Your family crest? The colors of your university? The brand of your employer or favorite corporation? Images and symbols evoke powerful feelings, good or bad. And they’re used to remind of us past success and organizational values while inspiring us to future achievement and glory.

Images and symbols also give us confidence. We know that a certain symbol translates into a great cup of coffee or a long-lasting shirt or a comfortable pair of shoes. We connect the symbol with the value of the product or service we purchased. In short, images and symbols communicate.

As leaders, it’s worth thinking about the images and symbols you use whether at work or at play, whether in the boardroom or the family room. Are you consistent in your behaviors? Your product quality? Your organizational and personal values? The more strongly and consistently you link an end-result with a particular symbol, the more value it has. Others can depend on you or your product or your service. They know what they’re getting and you help simplify their decision-making process.

In the corporate, academic, athletic, or entertainment world, your symbols represent you and your brand. Treat them carefully because they have economic value as well as emotional value. In your personal world, symbols have value and meaning as well. As we head into time of year when there are many holidays and festivals, symbols abound. From Christmas trees to pumpkins to candles to nativity scenes, symbols communicate. They remind and inspire. In my family, every year when we put out our Christmas decorations (symbols), I’m flooded with memories of family and the great times we’ve shared over many, many years. I’m also inspired to keep family traditions alive, to pass along the values and beliefs of our family, to honor our heritage and press forward.

Images and symbols are powerful. They remind and inspire. What symbols are meaningful to you? A maple leaf? The cross? A swoosh? An eagle? A star? A flag?

As always, the floor is open to your comments, suggestions, thoughts, and feedback.

Dr. is an agent of change and is able to balance the needs of the business and the needs of people. Dr. Gerwig believes and practices the values of performance and delivery of business metrics while simultaneously developing and growing people into leaders. You can contact him at RobertGerwig[at]


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