Leadership has become more complex in today’s world of changing circumstances, emerging technologies, and increasing globalization. Understanding and applying an artistic mindset can positively impact personal and organizational success and enhance leadership capacities for those in both formal and informal roles.
A work of art represents a different way of seeing, and artists make choices about how to best communicate their message. An artistic masterpiece is imaginative with multifaceted layers of meaning that make significant connections, often between disparate things, to create a unified whole. Similarly, leaders must be able to alternate between an internal and external focus, seeing in new ways, making connections that others don’t see. Leadership is essentially a state of mind, a way of seeing, and a commitment to create positive change for yourself and others.
“The most fundamental reason one paints is in order to see.” ~ Brett Whiteley, Australian artist (1939-1992)
The possibilities for this kind of expression come from openness:
- A flexible mindset, open to change, risk, and mistakes
- A will of mental and physical grit to work through chaos until the tension reveals a new way forward
- The energy to tear apart recognized patterns and relationships and put them together in new ways
- The focus to truly get inside and explore your thoughts and beliefs
Creative work arises with desire and courage from the depth of the innermost self. It manifests through the artistic process in a way that allows the artist to share it with others. Although it takes practice, everyone can learn to tap into this imaginative power. You don’t have to become an artist to benefit from this knowledge. You can gain significant knowledge and insights by learning from works of art themselves and the artists who created them.
While it’s not possible to cite every possible lesson in leadership from even a single work or artist, here are four examples. To get the most benefit from this approach, however, it’s important to take time to take a class or study works of art and their creators. More and more business schools are offering management programs with sessions that include artists and artistic processes in their approaches to management and leadership.
- Picasso continually reinvented his art. His Cubist works are multilayered and offer different perspectives simultaneously, depicting the subject from a variety of viewpoints. How can you look at a problem differently? Are there alternative perspectives you might consider when looking for a solution?
“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.” ~ Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
2. While Beethoven’s compositional style is innovative and often highly disruptive, his work was also deeply rooted in the tradition of masters such as Bach, Handel, and Mozart, who came before him. Likewise, in leadership, it’s valuable to rely on previous traditions, but move beyond that to new methods that build on lessons of the past.
“I have always counted myself amongst the greatest admirers of Mozart and shall remain so until my last breath.” ~ Ludwig van Beethoven(1770-1827)
3. Michelangelo used visualization to create his art. Although he was known primarily as a great sculptor, when he was asked to paint the Sistine Chapel ceiling, he accepted, fully believing in the quality of his imagination. He had a clear picture in his mind’s eye before he began his work. A great leader believes in his imagination and knows that visualizing what a strategy looks like when successfully implemented helps it to become a reality. Can you see where you are and where you want to go?
“Your greatness is measured by your horizons.” ~ Michelangelo (1475-1564)
4. Steven Spielberg is known for developing and maintaining partnerships with a variety of people who worked together to make each of his movies a success. He worked with the same people for long periods of time on multiple projects. They shared in creatively telling the story. When collaborative, leaders have access to more information and different perspectives. They can seek out diverse opinions and ideas to build strategies and solve problems. As a result, everyone becomes more engaged.
“When I was a kid, there was no collaboration; it’s you with a camera bossing your friends around. But as an adult, filmmaking is all about appreciating the talents of the people you surround yourself with and knowing you could never have made any of these films by yourself.” ~ Steven Spielberg (b. 1946)
The possibilities are limitless. Dancers, choreographers, poets, composers, musicians, actors, conductors, and more all have the potential to provide insight and guidance. Learn the value of finding unexpected connections, of challenging yourself, of learning through the experiences of others, of noticing and making use of patterns, and of looking and moving around your business, institution, or organization.
While artists use the elements of their art forms, quality leaders provide meaning and context in complex settings using environmental and relationship elements. The diversity of values and viewpoints in business, institutional or organizational management and leadership are similar to the way materials interact in the artistic process.
“There is a natural, beautiful, and deep body of knowledge embedded in the artistic process that we haven’t even begun to tap.” ~ Patricia Hoy, from Arts Awareness: A Fieldbook for Awakening Creative Consciousness in Everyday Life by Patricia Hoy
Dr. Patricia Hoy