Meet the Muses

I first heard the word muse when I was completely enchanted by the movie Xanadu as a five-year-old. In the movie, Olivia Newton John portrays a muse who inspires a painter to complete a record album cover. Aside from the great music (i.e. Magic by Olivia Newton John and I’m Alive by Electric Light Orchestra) and roller skating, there was something more to the movie for me–I felt intrigued by the idea of a muse, or a source of inspiration.

In Greek mythology, there are nine muses–the daughters of Mnemosine and Zeus who are goddesses of the arts and science and often portrayed as voluptuous women with exposed breasts and alluring smiles. When I created this blog, it was not to suggest that I was a muse in this vein. Rather, I wanted to play with the idea that we can inspire each other, and also be inspired by the non-human world. The intent of this blog is to be a source of inspiration which sparks many more ideas from you.

And so I’ve given some thought to what inspires me, and it seems fitting that I should explain that to you in depth as the basis for further conversation at the Activist’s Muse. Over the next several weeks, I’ll be describing each of the eight muses that I have identified as an important source of inspiration to me.

  • October 4, 2021 – Optimism
  • October 18, 2021 – Joy
  • November 11, 2021 – Transformation
  • November 15, 2021 – Integrity
  • November 29, 2021 – Wisdom
  • December 13, 2021 – Community
  • December 27, 2021 – Creativity
  • January 10, 2022 – Meaning

These words are what some people might call values. They are that, but so much more to me. A value is something that is pre-defined that we feel obliged to follow because of our faith, the law, or our moral compass. A muse is, instead, an open-ended source of inspiration and enrichment. I’ll explain who each of the muses are, how they inspire me, and how I tune into them in the weeks that follow.

The Submissive Side of Leadership

Submissiveness and leadership may seem like an oxymoron. Effective leadership requires a strong vision, decisiveness, determination, and tenacity — and I certainly can’t argue with that. But at the same time, leaders need to allow themselves the opportunity to listen to others as well as environmental cues so that we can strategically — and creatively — respond to the world in which we live — and make that world a better place.

Collaborative creative leadership is the process of gathering, integrating, cultivating, and cyclically enhancing the ideas and dreams of others, resulting in possibilities that we alone could not imagine or realize. Ideas can be gathered both formally and informally, through dialogue and multilogue, intentionally and haphazardly, as well as verbally and nonverbally. Ideas are everywhere — in words spoken and unspoken, cloud formations, passive sighs, and the distinctive colors of each evening’s sunset. Intuitive leaders are always paying attention, and are continually analyzing and making sense of their observations.

The ideas that emerge can be woven together, creating a unique tapestry of possibility — one where the colors and textures become more deep, complex, and alive with every passing moment. Each careful, delicate stitch expands and enhances the leader’s vision for provocation and transformation. As that vision is enacted and becomes experience, new threads are spun and woven into the cloth. The tapestry is not just a spectacle for followers to gawk at, it is a living thing to which they can contribute. It reflects something inside of them and something that inspires them; yet, it is much more beautiful and expansive than what they originally intended. The cloth was created by the leader, yet the image it projects was derived from a much broader source.

Being submissive isn’t about being soft, it is about being confident enough in ourselves and our strengths to listen, respond, and create. Submission in leadership is not an all-or-nothing proposition; it is a moment-to-moment process from which we can exit at any moment. It is also not about obedience and conformity; leaning into our submissive side as leaders actually challenges and provokes the world as it exists. Leaders are expected to be in the front, to be the point of light that everyone else seeks out and follows. When that leader instead ignites the light within each person in the crowd, the ambient but energizing glow of new possibilities ensues. Being submissive doesn’t require us to give up anything in ourselves, it provides an opportunity to receive and employ the individual and collective wisdom of others.

Fear keeps leaders from allowing ourselves to be submissive – fear of losing control, appearing incompetent, having someone else get ahead, or being perceived as unleader-like. By letting go of fear in leadership, we can creatively collaborate to not only reimagine our world, but to make tangible and sustainable changes.

Community Cooptation

The nonprofit/community benefit/social change sector has coopted much from business organizations, and the pressure to do so is increasing from many foundations and professional associations. In my experience, the business models that are appropriated are outdated and a poor fit for our sector. We are victimizing and marginalizing our community organizations through this practice; we are also limiting our ability to provoke meaningful and sustainable change. Rather than us borrow from business, I think business should listen and learn from us. Not because we demand it, or because we attach contingencies to it, but because there is an opportunity for mutual learning and growth. Perhaps by coming together intentionally we can envision new models of organizations that will truly transform our world.