Poet William Blake’s poems are full of leadership secrets. Let’s find practical wisdom in this verse:
To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.
Seeing a world in a grain of sand invites us to appreciate a single grain as a whole and as part of a system of beach, sun, perceiver and perceived. In our organizations, we have talented, accomplished staff all around us. How can we more clearly see three things: the light in individual colleagues; their contribution to the whole enterprise; our helpful influence when we pay attention to them?
One CEO I work with — no matter how busy he is — takes time each week to have substantial conversations with several staff members. What are they working on? How is it going? What are the challenges? What excites them? As leaders, we can also take this opportunity to express our appreciation. When you meet with direct reports, periodically ask them how you can support them.
To see heaven in a wild flower, we have to have an image of what we aspire to. We have to believe this aspiration is possible in order to create paths to go there.
We can start with a simple aspiration to see beauty around us every day. One young leader I know ends the day by taking five minutes to consciously reflect on her “daily delights.” Chester Nez, the Navajo World War II code talker, wrote in his memoir that during bombardments, he lay in his foxhole repeating his people’s prayer,
I walk in beauty. Beauty is around me. Beauty is above me, beauty below me.
The Englishman William Blake and Chester Nez would have gotten on well. When Blake says, “to hold infinity in the palm of your hand,” he partly means that we have to believe in possibility — beyond whatever foxholes we find ourselves in — and also believe we can seize that better possibility. Furthermore, we have infinite possibility within us.
In our organizations, one way to discover and attain positive possibility is to use the frameworks and methods of Appreciative Inquiry. Invite stories about strength and success, and from these appreciative stories, glean visions, paths and practices for your team or organization. Find more ways to use Appreciative Inquiry at the Appreciative Inquiry Commons.
To hold eternity, we must know how to be present in the presence of another person in the present hour. Leading an organization and living our days can be like a race. Try looking around in the airport at people running, ears to cell phones. Now try looking into the face of each colleague and passerby. What do you notice?
There is another leadership secret in Blake’s poem. Notice how he sees opposites as dynamic, back-and-forth possibilities, as both-and paradoxes instead of either/or. Try this experiment. Next time you catch yourself saying “but,” back up and substitute the word “and.” Do you notice a shift?