The Art of Conversational Leadership

I recently attended a fantastic session with the poet David Whyte entitled “Life at the frontier: the art of conversational leadership”. I know his poetic work and have admired it for a long time but I am also intrigued by his work in organisations and, as the title suggested, his “take” on leadership. He sees leadership as a conversational act and one we need to practice and prepare for. These are true conversations – often courageous – in which we make ourselves (our full selves as far as we are able) visible and thus vulnerable. Whyte believes that a leader who wants to make a difference has to remain visible and build capacities to do so. They cannot retreat to a sort of constructed invisibility within the day to day business of work life.

I know from my own work how difficult this can be and how the ability to connect, through conversations, can be one key support structure to help you maintain your stand when the going gets tough.

Whyte also said that true work – work we care about and is our passion, our vocation perhaps – will tread the same road as a romantic relationship. Which does, at times, inevitably lead to heartbreak.

I know there have been times I have perhaps given up the work struggle because I interpreted the heartbreak as “failure” when it may have been a true signal of being on the right road.

Have you asked yourself lately: “What is it that you care about enough to risk heartbreak for and still be willing to stand up again in order to stay in those important conversations?”

I find myself increasingly attracted to how poetry can give me – and others – access to a sense making that the empirical mind cannot. A heart access perhaps rather than a rational mind access.  David Whyte’s work in using poetry and the poetic sensibility is a wonderful opportunity to see beyond the immediate. To see through the surface to those new meanings or interpretations that can open up new ways of seeing our constructed world. Poetry can give us the time and space to consider “what else is possible”.

Poetry, for me, offers another lens through which to see and another layer of appreciation through which to experience difference. A chance to see the ordinary as if for the first time and thus see it as extraordinary perhaps. And to marvel at it. Time to re-consider?

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