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The Unboxed Brain is a monthly ezine bringing you innovation, spirit and creativity.  We feature articles by coaching professionals and others working on the creative frontier.

The Leader as Artist

 by Anne Margaret Kocurek    

We’ve all heard the phrase that “leadership is an art.” It’s even been used as the title of Max Dupree’s book about his experience as the CEO of the Herman Miller Company. When someone uses the phrase, I always nod my head in agreement and repeat to them, “yes, leadership IS an art, and what does that mean to you?”

Artists and leaders go through similar processes as they bring their vision to life for others to experience. Saying “leadership is an art” can have a much deeper meaning than just being a metaphor. Leaders create acts of leadership using the same process as artists.

An artist starts with a specific vision in mind, a feeling they want to communicate, or even a philosophy or belief. Any of these are initially sparked by something inside. Artists are highly self-aware. They have learned to listen to their inner voices, and to respect their instinct even when it conflicts with popular opinion.

Through the process of bringing the artist’s vision into being, it may take many forms before she is satisfied with the final result. She’ll often get lost in her work, as she settles into the flow of the creative process. There can be technical problems to solve along the way: how to capture a certain color, find the size and shape of an element that makes the desired statement, or find the “voice” of the piece. There may be a perceived risk presenting this vision to the world because it’s raised for others to interpret for themselves. That may result in followers who share the vision or in criticism. An artist knows these risks are minimal. Artists and leaders know the greater risk is in not creating at all.

The same can be said of a leader. The leader may create a product or strategy as their final piece of art. What they create will begin with a specific vision in mind, a feeling that they want to communicate, or even a philosophy or belief. The leader shares her vision just like the artist shares her painting. They have just used different mediums for expressing it. The artist expressed her vision through the canvas. The leader expressed hers through the product or strategy. Both may be rejected and both may have followers.

It’s critical that there be opportunities for quiet time to let answers come from the stillness of our inner space. Expressing ourselves through art enhances our problem solving abilities. Problem solving skills are essential to leadership. By exercising our creative brain muscles it increases our ability to communicate with the right tools and meaning for a given situation the more we use it.

Whether we are solving a business challenge, or forming a clay vessel, the process in the brain is essentially the same. Both tap into our emotional intelligence which has been determined to be a critical skill set for leaders to develop. Artists have a head start since aesthetic training refines and develops emotional intelligence skills. Artists know who they are. Artists know their purpose is to express their visions. Leaders know this and can develop their emotional intelligence with time, dedication, and practice.

Next time you’re brainstorming or problem solving, instead of writing a proposal, or tossing ideas around a board room table, draw the vision of what the ideal result looks like. Close your eyes and imagine how the end result will feel. Once you begin to stretch the variety of ways you can process information you’ll be amazed at how quickly this process helps you accurately define opportunities and identify solutions.

It’s easier to show someone a piece of art, or an act of leadership, than it is to describe it with words. That’s why we have artists who practice in so many different mediums. It’s why we have leaders who lead us in so many different ways. We don’t always appreciate art or leadership when we first experience it. What inspires one person may not inspire another. We don’t argue that Michelangelo was an incredible artist, or that Martin Luther King, Jr. was a great leader because his vision opened the minds and hearts of so many people. What they have in common is bringing something into being from just a whisper of a thought. While the embodiment of that thought may not always remain organic, the result is something new that has come into existence. Imagine how different our world would be if either Michelangelo or Martin Luther King, Jr. had let their whisper of a thought just float through their minds? If they had allowed criticism, or a lack of confidence in who they were dismiss this thought the tangible world we live in would be vastly different and lacking in the beauty they created.

Life is our canvas. You are invited to view yours in a new way, and redefine leadership as art. “Change begins when the artist creates. What have you created today?”

 © 2004, AMK Motivational Consulting, all rights reserved



Anne Margaret Kocurek is a professional singer, speaker, and writer. She has a Master’s degree in Leadership and 10 years of strategic marketing planning experience with Fortune 100 clients to entrepreneurs. When not artistically creating, she is an executive leadership coach.

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