Archive for March, 2014



 “You could listen to one of his songs and learn how to live.”

– Bob Dylan on the music of Woody Guthrie


Several years ago I was a thinking partner with John, a senior leader in marketing and sales with a global pharmaceutical company. The purpose of our conversations was to explore the relationship between artistry and leadership.

Many of our meetings occurred, not at the office, but on long walks along the wandering pathways of a lakeside park near my rural home. As we talked the wind, the light and waves and the cry of the gulls became a third partner that accompanied our explorations.

On one of our walks we discussed what it means to create respect in the workplace.

John started the conversation with an interesting insight;

“When I think of this process of respect it seems to involve a shift in our attention from goals and outcomes– to a reverence for each moment. Reverence opens the way to respect, and it is difficult to generate respect when your mind is focused primarily on a narrow set of goals.”

“Yes,” I said; The root of respect is to ‘look again’ When I think of respect in the context of an artistry I recall many years ago attending a piano concert at university performed by jazz artist Don Shirley.He opened the concert with a composition titled; ‘I Can’t Get Started’ and what I carry with me still is how all of life was contained in the experience of hearing those first three notes.”

My experience was echoed in the words of singer songwriter Bob Dylan, who said, in explaining his being absorbed as a teenager in the music of Woody Guthrie;

“You could listen to one of his songs and learn how to live.

Those notes had such a quality of reverence to them. And I think the reverence came from the respect he had for his audience, for his fellow musicians, for the piano, for the concert hall – even the cold wet weather outside – he held everything in his field with reverence.  It is as if it had taken him his whole life deepening the respect he had or his art in order to arrive at this place and bring everything he had into that one moment in time.

“For me, this is where the life of the leader and the artist intersect,” John said. “Leaders can learn a lot from artists about respect for the moment, of pausing and listening for the spaces between the notes. In leaders’ terms, it’s the space between the words. Sometimes leaders are so focused on outcomes that they can’t leave space to listen to other points of view; their mind is already made up. They know where they want to go and only want others to help get them there.”

“That’s what most impressed me with that piano concert,” I said,

“He wasn’t trying to get somewhere. Too often we miss the possibilities that attention to the moment might bring. If one leadership story is focused around realizing goals, there is another, a more artistic way of leading that is connected to the flow of experience. To find these moments we need to step off the path of our own habits and routines.”

In this context I recalled the words of poet W.S. Merwin, who

wrote; “If you can get one moment right, it will tell you the whole thing. And that’s true of your own life – each moment is absolutely separate  and unique and it contains your entire life.” (Merwin, 2005)

“That’s true,” said John. “These moments build up through a precision of listening and seeing. I sense that there is a gradual awakening of attention – of bringing back from sleep such elemental aspects of the human experience as our relationship with nature, as well as with poetry, music and the spoken word – all these forms of art awaken this inner perception.”

And this perception influences our own way of seeing. We can either look upon our world as an object  – lifeless and inert – or we can see it as a living presence that is continually unfolding  – each moment absolutely unique like musical notes on the piano keys  – and each part also containing within it the pattern of the whole.


W.S. Merwin, Departures and Returns by Christopher Merrill in Poets and Writers magazine (July/August 2005)

A Reverence for the Moment is adapted from Artful Leadership: Awakening the Commons of the Imagination Michael Jones  (2006, Trafford)

To order please visit:


or in Canada



Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: