Creative #Leadership and #Poetry: Translating Metaphor into Action

Last week, in the Huffington Post, Faisal Hoque celebrated the power of creative leadership and the fact that there’s “poetry as well as plumbing” involved in the process. His blog is full of great ideas for creative leadership, including this rubric for making sure your business team has everything it needs by categorizing the kinds of talent needed to fit the bill:
  • Ideation roles: dream up, discover, invent, and spread ideas
  • Guiding roles: manage, navigate, oversee and develop ideas
  • Building roles: implement, execute, and finish turning ideas into processes
  • Improving roles: expand, reduce, and tinker with existing products and processes
Good advice. But honestly, I don’t see much poetry in it. Although curiosity and inspiration are part of the creative act and its results, so the metaphor holds, but poetry is a much more specific kind of leadership, I think. Here are the qualities I associate with the creation of poetry:
Poets make connections where there were none before.
They master forms that are difficult, that contain expansion.
They are intuitive, and often introspective, are excellent observers, seeing things others don’t.
They are often considered unrealistic or visionary, but the solutions they come up with are integrative and often brilliant.

All of these qualities might help a leader find innovative solutions. But is that the poetry of leadership? As a writer and a poet and a poetry lover, I believe that creative thinking is only half the task.

The next step, the poetry of leadership, is more difficult, because it is about eloquence and an attention to language and the power of words. That is where I see the most innovative poetic leaders gaining their power, in the translation of vision and creativity and intuitive connections into language that conveys the heart of change and helps people step up. It is about the alignment of inspiration, vision and message. The poet leaders are the great ones, the transformational ones — Gandhi, for example, who integrated great oratory with great activism. If poetry is only a way of being, then we lose half its power — translating that being into language, so others can share the new understandings, can claim another way of knowing the world.

But the challenge I see in business is that intuitive and creative leadership in the style of poetic inspiration is plainly, distrusted. I think we need to train our business leaders to be poets, or at least appreciate poetry, so they can be better leaders, and value intuition. Programs like the Flow Project do their part in this brave new world of integrative leadership. These opportunities to be creative, not just think creatively, extend the excellent creative management tips that Hogue offers about teams and inspiration, into a path that is potentially transformational, not just innovative or clever.

If we’re going to use the metaphor of poetry, we need to honor the power of that metaphorical art as well, and the intuitive, ground-breaking possibilities of unexpected poetic connections. That takes a respect for the long-term blossoming of the creative process, the eccentricity of the poet. That means holding a space for the unknown, the surprising, the odd. That’s a kind of leadership that might change the world, not just a business decision.

Who is doing that work in the business world? Is that a Google or an Apple creative-focus? Do you have the space for that magical transformation of thinking? Or is it chained to business terms like teamwork and “idea mapping?” Where is the language of business changing to become more poetic, more honest, more expansive? (And I don’t mean advertising — that’s external not internal!)I’m not seeing much poetry anywhere in the biz world – are you?


One comment

  1. […] make meaningful change harder. Whatever their politics, people who want to lead authentically must transform language into action, starting with the words they choose. Let’s stop spinning and start […]


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