Did you know that April is National Poetry Month? This celebration of poetry started in the US in 1996 and in Canada, we are celebrating the 20th anniversary of acknowledging poetry and its vital place in our culture.

Even if you are someone who’s not really into poetry, you may find that poems can be a great source of wisdom and inspiration. They stir up emotions and actions in us on how to live a rewarding and fulfilling life. They give us hope for the future, inspiration for the day-to-day and solace in times of grief and heartbreak.

Poetry also teaches us a lot about leadership. We get insights on how to lead ourselves, how to lead others and how to make a positive difference in our organizations.

Leadership Lessons from Poetry

Poetry speaks to our emotions. Poems invite us to become introspective, to practice contemplation and rest in silence. Reflecting on who we truly are and getting to know ourselves is at the heart of being an effective leader. Leadership starts with leading ourselves well, and we can only do that if we are willing to immerse ourselves in the lifelong work of self-discovery.

Poems can teach us about honesty and being authentic, about the willingness to make ourselves vulnerable and showing up as who we are. This is absolutely key to effective leadership. We know from experience and research that one of the most important traits people look for in their leaders is integrity. Integrity is the basis of meaningful relationships and without it, there is no trust.

Poems also teach us about how to lead others. They remind us that leaders need to step back to let others be the best they can be and to practice empathy and compassion to understand people and the world around us.

There are many poets who have written powerful poems about leadership. Famous poets like Rudyard Kipling and his poem “If” Poetry Foundation, or Theodore Roosevelt who wrote “The Man in the Arena” as part of one of his speeches Theodore Roosevelt. But in this blog, I am going to introduce you to a different leadership poem, one that still touches me deeply every time I read it. It’s called “for a Leader” from the book “To Bless the Space Between Us” by the Irish poet, John O’Donohue. Here it goes:

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 up and refining the ways of your mind.

May those who work for you know you see and respect them.

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 from 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 frontiers

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

– by John O’Donohue

I invite you to let poetry infuse your life with meaning and a sense of what matters.