Connecting the threads of humanity at work

The poetry of leadership

James Autry is a former fortune 500 executive – and poet! I came across his wonderful book ‘Love and Profit – the art of caring leadership’ when I was starting OMA 23 years ago – and I am still inspired by his words today.

He had worked at the sharp end of American corporate life and was familiar with it all to often de-humanising language and attitudes. But in the middle of this corporate speak and hard targets he always found time for the human word and the softer touch. In short, he insisted on bringing his humanity to work. As a result it was clear that he led by example and that those around him, too, began to show their true human stripes.

Threads
Sometimes you just connect,
like that,
no big thing maybe
but something beyond the usual business stuff.
It comes and goes quickly
so you have to pay attention,
a change in the eyes when you ask about the family,
a pain flickering behind the statistics
about a boy and a girl in school,
or about seeing them every other Sunday.
An older guy talks about his bride,
a little affectation after twenty-five years.
A hot-eyed achiever laughs before you want him to.
Someone tells about his wife’s job
or why she quit working to stay home.
An old Joker needs another laugh on the way to retirement.
A women says she spends a lot of her salary on an au pair
and a good one is hard to find but worth it
because there’s nothing more important than the baby.
Listen.
In every office you hear the threads
of love and joy and fear and guilt,
the cries for celebration and reassurance,
And somehow you know
that connecting those threads
is what you are supposed to do
and business takes care of itself…

James A. Autry

From Reactivity to ‘Response-ability’

‘Listen…’

It is tempting for leaders to prioritise speaking rather than listening – to direct others at work but not to respond to them and with them. We argue that to be a responsible leader, you need the ‘ability to respond’ – which is very different from reacting. And it is not easy, it takes practice.

A reaction is usually quick. An impulse comes towards us, it goes in and a reaction comes back out, often without thinking too much about it. If we feel under pressure, it will often be automatic, a ‘knee jerk reaction’, which is unlikely to take into account how others may receive it.  But once we recognise the value of ‘connecting the threads’ of humanity at work, then we need to create space for a different movement.

When an impulse comes in, we need to remember to first … pause. Use the pause, however brief, to notice what the initiating impulse is doing to us. What happens in our thoughts, our feelings and even in our bodies? Then notice what our first ‘natural reaction’ would be. BUT… before we give in to that first reactive impulse, think; ‘What is the impact of this reaction going to be on others?’

An old proverb recommends:

              “Before you speak, think… is it kind? Is it true? is it helpful?

              Does it improve upon the silence…?”

Once we have reflected on the potential impact of our first reaction, we can then assess IF it is the most helpful or leaderly response. Sometimes we will find there is value in parking the first reaction and waiting for a secondary impulse to arrive, one that can take the edge off of a potentially sharp word and change a point of tension into a moment of mentoring, or awareness, or compassion.

As you go through your day, notice when these opportunities arise for you and see if you tune into a more considered and humane response. When you do, you just might find, ‘that business takes care of itself’.


Olivier Mythodrama has been delivering innovative and thought provoking leadership training for over 20 years. The people and organisations we have worked with describe our training as life changing. We think they’re right. We already work with some of the world’s leading businesses. Are you ready to join them?

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People matter

Leaders shouldn’t drive team members to compete against each other, they shouldn’t lead by fear. Instead, they need to lead by example.