“The real change takes place within our souls; the real change takes place when the unfolding of our souls reflects in some deep, mysterious way the unfolding of the universe. Then it is – when an individual person dares to live within his or her truth – that the world is changed, forever.” — Vaclav Havel
Leadership is about life. It is about having an impact on other’s lives, the life of the organization, and ultimately the leader’s own existence. Life emerges in mysterious and engaging ways, pressing challenges into our faces and providing opportunities for finding meaning and living deeply. If our lives were flat lines with no peaks or valleys, leadership would not be necessary, and there would be little poetry in the nature of things.
Leaders toil in the messy fields of day-to-day life, with its emotional heat of heart and soul and the clash of reality and principle. They try to understand the dynamics that tug and pull events and happenings.
Good leaders understand that life is not an exercise in engineering because it does not follow a logical or sequential path. It is filled with whimsy and mystery, serendipity and synchronicity. The unanticipated in life frequently hands us the biggest challenges, the largest gifts, and the greatest satisfaction.
The celebration of life is about facing our yearning for belonging and finding our calling in the pursuit of goodness. It cannot be planned because our lives and destiny have plans enough for us. Life engages our total being and is unpredictable: It is not simply about ‘doing’, it is about who we are as ‘beings’. It is poetic more than scientific.
Leaders grapple with the mysteries of life. In fact, all of us do. We just don’t recognize them or perceive them as part of the great stage on which life plays out. Poetry can be a metaphor for leading in today’s difficult world filled with ambiguity and uncertainty, and connected through a subtle, transparent, and complex web of relationships and dimensions. Leadership, like poetry, is about learning what it means to be fully human, to remember who we are, why we are here, and to find our place in the world.
We usually think of our life in an external way: examining what is outside of ourselves as if we are bystanders to a play unfolding around us. We think the context is “out there” in the greater world as if we exist solely in a social, political, and economic context. Certainly our society, community, and institutions present issues that are a part of our existence.
Leadership has an inner as well as an external context. These outer and inner domains affect our personal and leadership behavior. There is more, something sweeter that moves beyond systems, routines, and concepts. There is a greater and much more personal dimension. Leadership has a moral dimension requiring that ends and means must have the same harmonic structure.
Leaders understand the unseen world of forces and intangibles — those things in life that are hard to measure but make us uniquely human and alive. Leadership is not an emotionless endeavor. Leaders connect with the heartstrings of people to nourish insight, wonder, creativity and motivation. Leaders live in intimate relationship with the minds, hearts and souls of people. Sometimes that life is harsh or tender, noble or crass, or quiet or bombastic. But leaders touch us in ways that help us see our world and ourselves more clearly and sometimes through a different lens.
The world calls for leadership that helps us all be the people we are called to be. Leadership is not about controlling, appealing to the lowest common denominator or assuming we are all motivated by selfish interests. Leaders nurture relationships, connections, and commitment.
Leaders write organizational poetry. They engage others in a conversation about high ideals and righteous causes. They try to identify ways in which that conversation can be held and how our lives at work can be rewarding and fulfilling. Great leaders call on our better angels. Leaders summon us to use our creative energy and human spirit to act with virtue and do good things.