Leadership As Abstract Art: Connecting Our Inner World

by Danny Morris

“The deepest ache of the soul is the spiritual longing for connection and belonging. No one was created for isolation… we seek bridges for our isolation through people, possessions and accomplishment,” wrote psychologist David G. Benner. I have found these words to be so true during this season of enforced isolation.

My Achiever mindset has been burning with great heat. I seem to be working harder than ever first at my desk and then in the garden or doing DIY. I’ve realised I’ll do anything to find a sense of purpose through accomplishing things. I’m also buying things at an alarming rate. At the same time I’m finding normally relaxing activities to be less enticing: my favourite TV shows just don’t seem as captivating as normal. I’ve noticed I am often feeling disconnected and unsettled. My spiritual self is confused as if it’s a guest I’ve warmly invited in only then to rudely ignore. I wonder if this is an experience you share or have found with those you lead?


A key aspect of our work with action-inquiry is noticing. This includes noticing the thinking patterns in our heads as well as inquiring into the many details in and around us.

I know many who benefit enormously from exploring such issues as part of meditative practice, although even meditation can stray into being another accomplishment for the day.

A friend of mine leads a manufacturing business and has started a volunteer mental health team. Members of the team are calling people across the company – at different levels – to ask them how they really are and to invite them into noticing more about themselves.

My way of bringing quiet to myself is to sit still or go for a walk. I then try and consciously notice my different thoughts and feelings. In doing so I give some sense of cohesion to the different parts of me and in particular engage my spiritual self. I think others experience a richer colleague/husband/father/friend following these times, but even if they don’t I certainly feel more congruent and enabled. I am seeking how to linger in this more expansive mindset rather than sliding back into the hum and hurry of accomplishment at all costs. Accomplishment is of course a wonderful and essential part of leadership, but I’m learning not to become a slave to it.

There’s something about this strange season that is making many of us confront ourselves in ways that we aren’t used to. For some this may be rewarding but for many of us we are surfacing questions we don’t know the answers to, or we can feel lonely and discombobulated. And just at the time when people are needing to make meaning out of what they are experiencing, and looking to us to lead or guide them, we as leaders might be feeling disempowered ourselves. Our worlds have been muddled up too and the clear pictures we’ve had of ourselves or our leadership may no longer seem as coherent as before. Perhaps our inner world as leaders is messier than ever?

I’m reminded of a line by Jackson Pollock:

“Abstract painting is abstract. It confronts you. There was a reviewer a while back who wrote than my pictures didn’t have any beginning or any end. He didn’t mean it as a compliment, but it was.”

Who knows where this pandemic and its fallout will take us? But the rules of our art, leadership, have shifted and have not yet settled somewhere else. What we can do is attend to our inner life, in all its messiness, as this is the wellspring of who we are and how we show up.

Leadership as abstract art. There’s a thing.

What are you noticing about yourself during this season? How are you adapting your leading and interaction with others? How are you replenishing yourself and how is this different from before?

Copyright © 2020 Global Leadership Associates

Danny Morris leads GLA’s coaching bench, working with corporate clients around the world. He’s also co-chair of London Leadership Club and is Chair of anti-slavery charity, Unseen.