Leadership – What’s poetry got to do with it?

I live and work in two apparently different worlds; one is the world of leadership and business, the other the world of the arts, writing and particularly poetry. For some people these worlds never meet, or if they do it is as a collision of different values, beliefs and priorities tumbling together in some kind of street brawl – often over who owns the actual street.

However, I would suggest that a poet is someone who reflects and reframes the world she observes and feels to create communication and narrative in new ways. The poet’s job is to bring together ideas, people, things that might otherwise have lived apart. This includes the inherited stories of different groups and cultures, always with a view to framing them in a language that works at a deeper emotional level as well as a conscious thinking level. Poetry taps into and at the same time creates feelings; it enables us to connect to our own and others’ Emotional Intelligence (and in many cases Spiritual Intelligence as well).

Now we have reached a collective point as human beings in which the language and narratives of industrial and technological success, the stories that have sustained us in an illusion of control and power for so long, have led us over the precipice and onwards to our own inevitable destruction as we drain the planet of its ability to sustain us any longer.

In this current situation the narratives of leadership are pretty threadbare; the language used clanks like an old tin bucket. Often the only narratives that seem to galvanise groups of people and their communities speak to old divisions, of difference and separation, of ‘them’ and ‘us’. How we connect up and create a sense of community and then how we create helpful positive bridges between communities is the only way forward surely? In order to do this we need to find the poets, the storytellers, the leaders, who can find what holds us together, our deeply shared centre, rather than focussing on our difference. Those who can also take us out of our separation from the planet, a separation that enables us to see it as a resource to be exploited rather than it being part of us and we being part of it with our health and well-being inextricably linked.

In my experience, it is not a stretch for me to recognise that my health and spirit as an individual is directly related to the health and spirit of those around me and the health and spirit of the planet in which I live. I use the word ‘in’ deliberately because that is the truth of the complex interconnected web that holds all living things. ‘On’ is another word of separation, one implying dominance and control.

In the poem ‘For/From Lew’, the American poet Gary Snyder imagines what his old, close friend, now dead, would tell those he left behind:

‘There’s a basic fear between your world and

mine. I don’t know why.

What I came to say was,

Teach the children about the cycles.

The life cycles. All the other cycles.

That’s what it’s all about, and it’s all forgot.’


And that applies to us all – and most of us know it deep down inside. We just need a poet, to remind us. That is, after all, what any effective leadership needs to be built on.

It will take the poet, the storyteller, to break through the current ways we frame ourselves in the world because they are the ones who can get in under our defences and mind-sets to help us connect at the deeper levels I am suggesting we need. We live in a world of system and process that have been developed over hundreds of years – an apparently ‘rational’ world that, as events over the past decade have shown, is smoke and mirrors and beginning to crumble. Financial systems that help a small wealthy minority at the expense of the majority, science and technology with by-products that destroy the health and well-being of people and the environment, political systems based on old groupings and archaic ideas of what politics means in this post-modern world.

Put simply, the poet is the one who can help us find the new language, the emotional and spiritual intelligence that we need to guide us through these difficult times to a new way of living and working together. In all the variety of Leadership work I have been part of over the last few years with public and private sector, large and small, only a handful of businesses are managing to develop new ways of working and communicating together. Many start, and then go back to the old ways.

It’s time to bring in the poet......before it is too late.