February 23, 2015

Is your heart aroused at work? Does it sing in what you do?

By Paul Laughlin

This may sound like a strange, perhaps slightly dodgy title for this site. Don’t worry, despite the success of Fifty Shades of Grey & another type of arousing fiction, this is actually a book sharing what poetry can teach us about how to survive the workplace.

Its subtitle is much clearer – “Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul at Work“. Before that too threatens to put you off reading further, let me explain why I think this is relevant to all readers.

This is not a theoretical book or one for poetry buffs. Rather, through the metaphors & stories used in a number of classic poems/epics, the author explores struggles to which we can all relate. These include finding your own voice in work, the struggle to be authentic, coping with power, retaining creativity & how to maintain motivation when it all feels like dust.

How poetry can help leaders as much as storytelling

David Whyte manages to skilfully use a number of different poems & epic tales to explore these themes and helpfully has chapters more focussed on different times in your working life. “Finn and the Salmon of Knowledge” is used to explore youth & innocence in the workplace. A number of Blake’s poems are used in “Fire in the Voice” to help with finding your own voice & speaking up in the workplace.

Dante’s Divine Comedy is used to brilliantly explore the soul at mid-life, when “in the middle of the road of my life, I awoke in a dark wood where the true way was wholly lost”.

A number of poems by Coleridge are used to help explore handling complexity/ambiguity. Elizabethan poems amongst others are used to explore maintaining or rekindling creativity, in “Fire in the Earth”.

How this book has helped me in my career

This book has inspired & reassured me at many different times over the years and I can see it helping coachees. The chapter which I remember most powerfully is David’s exploration of the epic poem of Beowulf. Here the author brilliantly explores the monsters below the surface in corporate life and how to wrestle with your internal demons in order to be fully effective.

There is a depth of insight here to leave you reflecting for ages about your internal battles and how much of your work challenges are actually internal (rich territory for coaching).

So, I recommend this book, not just for the poetry & because it is so well written – although it is. My real reason for the recommendation is that I’ve found this helps me in my leadership roles. For me, it’s more effective at enabling you to be authentic at work than many corporate initiatives at culture exercises from external consultants.

Does poetry speak to you as a leader? Which poems?

Why not try it & let me know what resonates with you? If poetry has helped you as a leader, I’d love to hear which poems have spoken to you. Please just use the comment box below or share on my social media.

If you want to hear more about how this book spoke to me, I shared more on a recent podcast interview for Kevin Watson’s new podcast: