Leadership, Poetry and Complexity

November 8, 2007

In the Poetry Society of America’s Journal, there is an article in which poets speak about complexity. I particularly enjoyed Susan Mitchell’s entry: “The poets that interest me most, that excite me to return to them again and again, all share a single characteristic: they are remarkably attentive. They see, hear, smell, taste and feel more of the world than other poets, and they contrive to pack that moreness into their poems…As a result, their poems attend to more of the world, including disorder as well as order, contradiction as well as congruence, insanity as well as sanity, the hidden as well as the inaccessible.”

If you took this paragraph and substituted the word “leaders” for “poets” and “leadership” for “poems, ”it would very aptly describe the leaders that interest me most. Effective sense makers must be attentive to the world around them in all of its complexity. Leaders need to forego the temptation to seek the easy answers, simple measures, best practices, and executive summaries, leaders have to, as Susan Mitchell says “attend to more of the world.”

One of my favorite poets is Czeslaw Milosz. In “Ars Poetica?” what he says about poetry could also be applied to leadership:

The purpose of poetry is to remind us
how difficult it is to remain just one person,
for our house is open, there are no keys in the doors,
and invisible guests come in and out at will.

The leaders best equipped to handle the demands of complexity will be those who are the most attentive – the sense makers who show us how difficult it is to remain just one person in an interconnected world.

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