I’ve been in Boston this week at the International Leadership Association Conference.   I am always open to the unexpected when I travel, but I received an unexpected gift at this conference.

The ILA incorporates many ways of thinking about and practicing leadership.  One of the sessions I attended explored Leadership and the Language of Poetry. All the participants at the well attended session were invited to take 15 minutes to silently tour a display of 145 poems that had been printed out on individual sheets of paper, and make note of those that ‘spoke’ to us and our leadership journey.

Several resonated with various areas of my professional leadership journey.  Many of them moved me deeply.  I wasn’t the only one who was soon shedding tears as we quietly knelt on the floor before sheets of paper, or stood side by side at tables neatly laid out with pages and pages of poetry.

We were then invited to choose one.  Only one.

One poem touched me deeply, resonating with my journey of being parented, becoming a parent and my thoughts about parenting as a leadership journey.

We broke into small groups and were asked to read our chosen poem aloud to the others.  I found myself gasping for breath and reaching for more tissues to dry the tears that were now flowing freely.

The Gift

To pull the metal splinter from my palm

my father recited a story in a low voice.

I watched his lovely face and not the blade.

Before the story ended, he’d removed

The iron sliver I thought I’d die from.

I can’t remember the tale,

but hear his voice still, a well

of dark water, a prayer.

And I recall his hands,

two measures of tenderness

he laid against my face,

the flames of discipline

he raised above my head.

Had you entered that afternoon

you would have thought you saw a man

planting something in a boy’s palm,

a silver tear, a tiny flame.

Had you followed that boy

you would have arrived here,

where I bend over my wife’s right hand.

Look how I shave her thumbnail down

so carefully she feels no pain.

Watch as I lift the splinter out.

I was seven when my father

took my hand like this,

and I did not hold that shard

between my fingers and think,

Metal that will bury me,

Christen it Little Assasin,

Ore Going Deep for My Heart.

And I did not lift up my wound and cry,

Death visited here!

I did what a child does

when he’s given something to keep.

I kissed my father.

~ Li-Young Lee

Perhaps there was something particularly poignant about sharing a space of appreciating poetry in such an unexpected way that cracked something open in me.

What I love about poetry is that another’s experience or story gifts us with an opportunity to connect with our own experience or story and to feel something, perhaps in an entirely new way.

My own story is about my father leaving my family when I was seven, about me choosing to leave the father of my child when our son was seven.  My story has been about a longing for such tenderness from ‘father’ at the age of seven, both for that little girl who still lives inside of my adult body, and also for my teenage son.

I also volunteer with several social profit projects that provide leadership opportunities to marginalized women and children who have either been abused by parents, or tragically lost their parents.

My own story has been re-written many times since I was seven years old, and since my son was seven.  I’ve come to realize that what may originally appear to be losses, are often unexpected gifts.

I’ve witnessed remarkable growth in those who have found tenderness from people other than their absent or abusive parents, who have become nurturers and shared that tenderness openly.

If this poem speaks to you, or if you have a poem that speaks to your journey as a parent, please share your comments, reflections, wisdom.

If you would like to know more about weaving music, art and poetry into leadership, visit: