Over the past few weeks, it has felt to me that we could all do with some gentleness, with some love and kindness.
When one looks, there is a lot to fall in love with. Of course, Banyana Banyana won the African Cup of Nations. Prof Zeblon Vilakazi, vice-chancellor of the University of the Witwatersrand and acclaimed nuclear physicist, has been inducted as a Fellow of the Royal Society, making Newton, Darwin and Einstein happier people. Zimbabwean author, NoViolet Bulawayo has, again, been longlisted for the Booker Prize. Congolese artist and political satirist, Zemba Luzamba, has a show opening in London. These African authors are all enjoying success in their careers. And I fell in love with The Proper Store’s industrial aesthetic and added some classic artist shirts to my wardrobe. There’s a lot to love.
Three weeks ago my mention of red wines triggered such a flood of messages that I momentarily fantasized about shifting this letter’s focus to wine. It seemed like a plan – drink and write. Aside from the small matter that my oenological vocabulary contains the sum of four words, yum, yuck, wow and meh, it felt like a robust strategy. What could go wrong with that? Well, yes…
Still, I thought I should round out the reds by sharing my most-loved whites – Luddhite’s Saboteur, Lismore’s Viognier and Stark-Condé’s The Field Blend (which I discovered thanks to Leo’s Wine Bar). If you haven’t tasted them, you really should.
So, if you want to read more about Building Culture, click here; if you want to brush up on Leadership Basics, click here; click here for newsletters on Mindfulness, and here for letters including African authors. You get the idea. Let me know what you think by commenting here. I’d appreciate the feedback.
How does one write about falling in love and strategy? They seem like different universes and yet, the world’s leading strategists tell us that the greatest companies are sustained by purpose. The most influential leadership researchers tell us that we perform at our best when we’re in flow. Very rarely is the word ‘love’ used and yet love is what it is.
Working towards and with something that transcends us, that is illusive, in some sense unknowable, trenchantly defiant of logic and measurement, is magical and powerful. It is love that energises the effort.
Krista Tippet’s 2008 conversation with John O’ Donohue provided me with a way into this topic.
O’Donohue is a poet and philosopher. She describes his work as being about “beauty, friendship, and how the visible and the invisible, the material and the spiritual, intertwine in human experience.”
O’Donohue reflects that “one of the loneliest things you can find is somebody who is in the wrong kind of work; who shouldn’t be doing what they are doing but should be doing something else, and haven’t the courage to get up and leave it and make a new possibility for themselves.
But it’s lovely when you find someone at work who’s doing exactly what they dreamed they should be doing and whose work is an expression of their inner gift. And in witnessing to that gift and bringing it out, they actually provide an incredible service to us all.”
These are powerful questions. What impact do you want to have beyond yourself? What in your work can you fall in love with? If there is nothing in work, what in your life is loveable? How might you bring that to work?
If you’re in leadership, these questions apply equally to your business and your teams.
Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall observe that “Ongoing work-strengths fit is the master lever for high-performance teams: pull it, and everything else is elevated; fail to pull it, and everything else is diminished.”
Or as Tom Chappell, founder of Tom’s of Maine explained in Inc. magazine, “Quantitative goals can’t invest purpose in a process that has none. The quest simply for more of anything is inherently unsatisfying. If there is no point or joy in what you are doing, or if you lose sight of the point, then just measuring your progress can’t make it worthwhile or fun. If I can organize people around a purpose, that is the most powerful form of leadership.”
Perhaps then we might be provocative and say that the essence of strategy is to fall in love. The essence of leadership is to help people do what they love. Or perhaps, it is an eternal truth, one that doesn’t need countless studies for us to know that it is true.
O’Donohue contends that we are all artists.
He says to Tippet, “everyone is involved, whether they like it or not, in the construction of their world. So, it’s never as given as it actually looks; you’re always shaping it and building it. And I feel that from that perspective, that each of us is an artist.”
Don’t you feel your world shifting as you read that? We are always building and shaping our lives. You are an artist.
Of course, if we’re not doing it consciously, we drift aimlessly in the way that Jung so beautifully expressed, writing “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”
O’Donohue points to the fact that we are all ‘ex-children’, beings that invented whole worlds of play. He reminds us that at night we all dream. He describes a dream as a “sophisticated, imaginative text full of figures and drama that we send to ourselves.” And so, he encourages us to connect with our ability to imagine and create our worlds.
If you’re contemplating change, or if you’re feeling stuck knowing you need to change, you might enjoy O’Donohue’s For A New Beginning. The last two stanzas read,
“Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is at one with your life’s desire.
Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.”
Nthikeng Mohlele’s The Discovery of Love is a collection of short contemplations on love.
In the Grape Picker, his narrator, a farm worker reflects on the hardness and dangers of his work. Yet also muses that “it was for me never only doom and gloom, for there is immeasurable beauty in the vineyards: majestic rows upon rows of vines endowed with fruit, contrasted by reds and greens…The human stories too, tales of the sharing of life burdens and the celebration of small miracles, some too small to matter in the grander scheme of life, but miracles regardless.”
He, from a distance, admires Anna-Marie. At night he wonders whether he might one day approach her, and what their lives might be like. He reflects that perhaps the worst fate was “What if Anna-Marie lay awake at night, praying even that I would summon the courage to say something – to subject my love to vulnerabilities, to put words to the star arrangements twinkling in the depth of my bosom?”
I wish you a week of new beginnings, adventure, small miracles, and the courage to reach out to your Anna-Marie, whatever or whoever that is, to fall in love anew with the life that you have and can create.
PS: If you’d like to work with me, this is what you can expect from the experience.