For a Leader — a tool for right-brained leadership

Most of my career I’ve been a left-brained leader. Establish the vision, break that down into concrete milestones, then determine the best course of action to achieve those milestones, put those actions to a timeline and execute, holding everyone accountable.

This linear thinking process is super useful in the business world. However, its strength in understanding how concepts interact is its weakness in understanding a whole picture. That’s the right brain’s job — to understand a whole AS a whole, rather than as a mishmash of interacting parts. It’s seeing the whole lego village AS a village, rather than as a bunch of legos and an instruction book (HT to my 3 year old).

Most instructions on leadership talk to our left brain. A list of attributes or characteristics to cultivate or a framework of steps to follow to execute. These tools are very tactical and effective so far as they go, but leadership is more than simply following the right steps in a process. The best leaders intuitively understand the whole of their surroundings, in addition to the parts. The best leaders engage with the entire personhood of the people who work with them, rather than simply their role and responsibilities.

But there’s relatively little in the way of teachings or tools for that right brained part of leadership. Relatively little poetry, or music, or art that speaks directly to the act of leadership, while too many to-do lists create imbalanced leaders who can’t see the forest for the trees (although they often think they can, they are just seeing a bigger tree).

All that as context and preface to share a wonderful poem that I was exposed to recently. I invite you to read this without the intention to understand the words or concepts (even if that’s hard), but instead to simply let the whole poem wash over you and see what feeling or sense that brings up. In other words, try to read it with your right brain, and see the whole AS a whole.


For a Leader

May you have the grace and wisdom
to act kindly, learning
to distinguish between what is
personal and what is not.

May you be hospitable to criticism.
May you never put yourself at the centre of things.
May you act not from arrogance but out of service.
May you work on yourself,
building and refining the ways of the mind.

May you learn to cultivate the art of presence
in order to engage with those who meet you.
When someone fails or disappoints you,
may the graciousness with which you engage
be their stairway to renewal and refinement.

May you treasure the gifts of the mind
through reading and creative thinking
so that you continue as a servant of the frontier
where the new will draw its enrichment of the old,
and you never become a functionary.

May you know the wisdom of deep listening
the healing of wholesome words,
the encouragement of the appreciative gaze,
the decorum of held dignity,
the springtime edge of the bleak question.

May you have a mind that loves frontierrs
so that you can evoke the bright fields
that lie beyond the view of the regular eye.

May you have good friends
to mirror your blind spots.
May leadership be for you
a true adventure of growth.

John O’Donohue — Benedictus

If this resonated with you as a leader, I invite you to share your experience in the comments. I, and others among your peers, will learn by seeing the whole through your eyes.

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