Leaders and Artists: More in Common Than You Think
December 23, 2017
Creating art has a lot in common with authentic leadership. This article delves ever so lightly into how two deep subjects display many of the same characteristics.
To begin with, the path to true leadership is a journey that begins with attaining an understanding of who you are really. The ethical leadership of others requires that you first understand your own values and perspectives, your own vision, your own mission in life. In creating art, in order to ultimately produce quality work with meaning, a similar journey must be undertaken. You must know you—your own values and perspectives, vision, and mission to ensure that the art you are producing is grounded in authenticity and that you are pursuing truth, whatever that means to you. In visual arts like painting, are you just copying a scene from nature or how someone looks to you, or are you capturing light, shadow, color, texture, and value to express meaning beyond superficial appearance? In music, are you repeating someone’s song to sound like them or are you searching for your voice and bringing out the emotion from deep within, connecting with your listeners?
Developing leadership qualities takes time, in years rather than weeks. Some believe, as in most tribal communities, that a leader is born. I am of the school of leadership that believes a leader, being born with certain inherent qualities, can be made. This is not the fashioned leadership of the military or corporate world known as headship. In this form, a person exhibits certain managerial skills like having the ability to take initiative. They are then moved into increasingly more responsible positions until they are at the head of whatever group. In my view, they’ve become a strong manager, but not a leader as discussed here. A leader spends many years learning the craft of management—a set of skills enabling them to accomplish goals and objectives by coordinating a team of people and overseeing their production. He/she helps them manage their time, learn new skills, relate to people, etc. in order to be productive. A leader, on the other hand, has a vision and moves people ethically forward to see and pursue that vision for the common good. This is what we would hope to see in elected officials, but rarely do.
An artist, after mastering whatever craft required in their field, must elevate beyond craftsmanship and move toward truth by having a vision and through their work engage observers/listeners to see and understand that vision. Just as a leader engages the hopes, dreams, and aspirations of his/her followers and guides them purposefully toward his/her vision fulfillment, so the artist—through a series of thoughtful methods—moves observers/listeners to begin to share the same vision in the mind of that artist.
A question that sometimes faces people learning about authentic leadership is this: Do you consider Hitler a leader? The answer is no. Authentic leadership cannot exist without an ethical foundation.
So, whether leader or artist, many of the same qualities can surface during this journey. The ultimate end will surely be different, but the rules of engagement, the orchestration, and the passion of pursuit can be very closely related.