Coaching & Leadership Development
June 11, 2018

Heart and Soul: The Art of Narrative Leadership

Heart and Soul: The Art of Narrative Leadership

This blog comes from writer, storyteller, educator and “Education for the Soul” Conference keynote speaker, Geoff Mead.


I think that now we need those fictional old bards and fearless storytellers, those seers. We need their magic, their courage, their love and their fire more than ever before. It is precisely in a fractured, broken age that we need mystery and a reawakened sense of wonder…

We need to go down to the bottom, to the depths of the heart and start to live all over again as we have never lived before.

Ben Okri

It is easy to dismiss storytelling unthinkingly as something that belongs to a bygone age – the province of “fictional old bards.”  But I agree with Ben Okri that storytelling should serve a deeper purpose and that, floundering as we are in a sea of stories stained with cynicism and polluted by propaganda, we need courageous, inspired storytellers more than ever. We need to find our own magic, courage, love and fire to tell the stories called for by the time we live in.

 

That’s why the title of this blog is deliberately provocative: heart and soul are big words that do not usually appear in the lexicon of leadership, though we may use them in other aspects of our lives. But this is to make a false distinction between the public sphere of work and the private sphere of home and family. We are innately the same people at work as we are at home; to pretend that we are two different people, with different values, logics and motivations in different parts of our lives is a schizophrenic fantasy. As mindfulness teacher Jon Kabat-Zinn says: “Wherever you go, there you are.”

 

Heart and soul; feelings and imagination; passion and vision. It’s strange isn’t it that passion has become a commonplace word in leadership and business (I used to have an office above a food shop that declared itself to be passionate about pastry) and a leader without vision is considered a laughing stock in business schools, yet so many writers on leadership are reluctant to acknowledge where passion and vision come from?

 

So, let us boldly reclaim these big words – heart and soul – from poetry and pop song lyrics and wishful New Age thinking to take their rightful place in our vocabularies. Metaphorically, the heart is the seat of our emotions whilst the soul longs for meaning and purpose. They speak a different language from our logico-rational minds: the heart expresses itself through feelings and the soul deals in symbols and images.

 

Our logico-rational minds are swayed by information and argument but our hearts and souls are moved by stories and their unique power to stir the feelings and stimulate the imaginations of storytellers and their listeners. As storytelling creatures, we delight in being  moved in this way: it’s no accident that in Greek and Roman mythology, the marriage of heart and soul (Eros and Psyche) resulted in the birth of Hedone, meaning pleasure or bliss.

 

Narrative Leadership calls on us to consult the compass of our souls and the barometer of our hearts to set a course and read the weather on our journey. Only then can we lead with genuine passion and vision; only then can we expect to stir the feelings and imaginations of others. But beware: our souls will not let us play small (their wish is for us to find meaning by serving more than our own egos) and our hearts will soon complain if we betray our potential.

 

Understanding the moral force of stories and storytelling is vital for leaders in any field, but as educators, we carry an additional responsibility. From an early age, stories act on our imaginations to shape who we believe ourselves to be, how we relate to others and how we make sense of the world.

 

Stories are so fundamental to how we think, feel and act that choosing the stories to which we expose our children and helping them develop the capacity to distinguish between stories that expand the human spirit and those that distort and constrain our potential are critically important.

 

There’s a Native American story that explains this dilemma beautifully…

 

An old Cherokee was teaching her grandchildren about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” she said. “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – she is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”

“The other is good,” she continued. “She is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The children thought about it for a minute and then asked their grandmother: “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

As leaders and as educators it is our responsibility to provide a diet of wholesome stories: ones that encourage self-belief and individuality; a generous and inclusive approach to others; and an ethic of responsibility and care for the human and more-than-human world.


 

On the 18th October at our “Education for the Soul” Conference, Geoff Mead explored the unique power of story to create meaning and give significance to our individual lives and to our shared experience in his keynote talk.  As part of this, he discussed the importance of storytelling for educators and leaders, how we can reconnect with our innate capacity for storytelling and delve into some of the stories that have shaped us.

This talk formed a crucial part of the day which centred around the theme of “Creating New Narratives for the School Leaders’ Journey” and was designed to extend the conversation around school leadership, well-being and standards in our schools.

It is fair to say, the day was a very special one and a huge success with so many school leaders and education professionals joining us for this. It was so wonderful to watch these individuals drop their leadership masks and come together, in service of one another and in service of shared hopes, dreams and ambitions for our children and our schools. Following the success of the conference, I’m delighted to say that in October 2019, we will once again host Headteachers & School Leaders for this special conference.

 

The conference will aim to build on the outcomes of “Education for the Soul” 2018 and seek to explore how school leaders and teachers can learn to lead with integrity, depth and purpose. As part of this, we will look into how individuals can stay connected to their “why” and the role coaching can play in helping those in education in create alignment with their deepest values.

 

Above all, “Education for the Soul” Conference 2019 will aim to help school leaders and teachers:

 

– Foster a deep sense of vocation and purpose amongst all staff

– Gain a better understanding of coaching (theory, processes, neuroscience etc.) and how it enables others to work in deep alignment with their true values

– Increase their understanding of the relationship between school development and adult development

– Keep hope, joy passion, commitment and creativity at the heart of their school and relationships with self and others

 

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