Can you inspire your team without giving them opium?

In today’s Fable Friday we’ll go back to 1797 and the Romantic Period in English literature, with a story about the great poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge.  You probably remember him from high school when you had to suffer through the long narrative poem, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.”

Coleridge had wanted for years to write a long poem about ancient China, and good scholar that he was, he had done a lot of reading and research. No Google for him!

But as they say on the internet, “There was a problem!”  Coleridge suffered from tuberculosis, called consumption in those days, and he was sickly and weak all his life.  There were no antibiotics or modern medicine for help, so he tried to relieve his discomfort with frequent doses of laudanum, a tincture of opium dissolved in alcohol. So it’s fair to say that Coleridge often had quite a buzz on, and his addiction caused much heartache for him and his family.

After a long day of reading about China, Coleridge took a dose of laudanum, and fell into a dreamlike sleep, in which he conjured up the most beautiful visions of Kubla Khan’s domain, and the imagery and language to describe it.  He woke with these images still in his head and immediately sat down to write.  His first lines of the poem, written in iambic tetrameter, are so beautiful and melodic you can almost sing them:

“In Xanadu did Kubla Khan

A stately pleasure-dome decree:

Where Alph, the sacred river, ran

Through caverns measureless to man

Down to a sunless sea.”

And as Coleridge feverishly wrote in this dreamlike state, he was interrupted by a knock on his door, the tailor returning a suit he had sent to be mended.  After accepting the suit and paying the man, he sat down again to resume his work, and to his horror realized the vision was gone. He barely recognized that which he had written.  Bitterly disappointed, he stuffed this brilliant poetic introduction of just 54 lines into his desk drawer, revisiting it from time to time over the years, but never completing it.

It was a much younger aspiring poet, the great George Gordon, Lord Byron, who upon reading the fragment, encouraged Coleridge to have it published, which he did in 1816.  It was immediately a popular work.

I often think when I read this poem and the history behind it, that all of us are capable of great achievements if we are properly inspired.  For Coleridge, the combination of immense literary talent, a Cambridge education, and the intake of opium resulted in the brilliant Kubla Khan.

But the people who work for you today are not Coleridge, and let’s hope they get no inspiration from drugs!  So how do you inspire them?  As a coach, what do you do to bring out the best in your people, so they come to work in the morning with a clear vision of how to make a difference, and let nothing distract them?  Because you have to figure that out you know.  It’s your job.

In my newsletter on Tuesday I’m going to share with you a story about Lou Holtz, the great college and NFL football coach and some of his techniques for getting the most from his people.  I hope you’re signed up for it. If not just click on ActionSystems Training on the right, and when you get to my website mouse over the N at the top right for “Newsletter” and click on it, then send me your email address.

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