Poetry? I Don’t Read Poetry!

Posted on Saturday, September 11, 2010 in Leadership

reading poetry

David S. had been promoted to co-direct the homeless project.  He worked the late afternoon and evening shift.  Jessica, his co-director, worked the morning and early afternoon shift.  My task was to build them into a stronger leadership team.  Their executive director had given me a day to do it.

I planned a retreat in the mountains with a mix of activities:  telling each other their personal leadership stories, rock climbing and a poetry experience.

Against the backdrop of a rock wall at 9,000 feet on a sunny August morning, the co-directors and I discussed expectations.  David S. was open and skeptical about the value of everything I had planned.  To my mind, his honesty was a good thing.

After about an hour of telling each other their personal leadership stories, I asked them take about 20 minutes to read through a bunch of poems that I had spread out on the ground and pick out any that spoke to their heart as a leader.

David jotted down several, but when it came to picking the one that spoke to him the most, he picked “From the Drum Major Instinct” by Martin Luther King Jr.

I invited them to read the poem twice and then answer four questions about how the poem intersects with their work as leaders.

David read his poem, then read it again. The second time he read the poem, tears streamed from his eyes.

He explained that by reading a second time he forced himself to listen to what the words were really saying.  As long as he could remember he had a conviction that his purpose was to serve others.  He had served others in his family and in the military.  And now he was dedicated to serving the homeless.

In the conversation that followed, Jessica said she understood more about David’s values.  She related to David’s need to serve.

David said that reading and talking about the poem had a profound effect on him. “It was able to evoke spiritual emotion and shake my very core….with words.”

And “I never imagined words…in the form of poetry could be so instrumental in keeping my mind and soul centered in the place I desire to be, in my life.”

Poetry?  Why Poetry?  Why not, if you want to engage people, reclaim your humanity and remember and share why you are driven to do what you do.

Book Image: ChilliHead

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