- On September 21, 2017
Last weekend I found the annual Alexandria Art Festival right in the middle of my weekend walking route. Normally I’d bypass it and take an alternate path. This time I chose to play around and see what caught my eye as I walked up one side and down the other (3500 more steps on my Garmin!).
What immediately struck me was the similarity between art and good leadership.
In my first career as U.S. Army officer, we often discussed whether leadership was art or science, with adamant voices on both sides.
If it was science it could be learned. Follow the list, check the box—leadership!
If leadership was an art then it was integral to the individual, and not everyone had the ‘inspiration.’
I believed then and still believe it is not one or the other—it is both art and science…with one caveat gained from the wisdom of decades of leadership.
In both art and leadership, there is science—technique—involved. Most people don’t grab a palette and paint a world class work on their first or second (or thousandth) try. There are basics to master—proportion, shadow, scale, stroke technique. There is a science behind it.
In leadership we also need to learn the basics—what taking responsibility means, candid communication, listening, how to inspire a vision, set goals, and influence others. There are best practices to draw from. And increasingly neuroscience findings on how our brains work, that can guide us in developing the fundamentals to elicit change, growth, and influence.
Then the magic—the ’art’ –happens. As the artist evolves in skill, their “voice” shows in the medium, subject, and perspective she chooses. And over time there is an authenticity around a certain ‘presence’—impressionistic landscapes in pastels, geometric shapes in mixed media, large scale photography, bronze abstract sculptures.
I normally would have just given passing glances to most of the booths. But this time I was looking at it through the lens of authenticity.
Each artist had something compelling to offer. Whether it was a field of flowers, a group of ladies at lunch, stylized race cars, abstract metal work, large canvases splashed with paints, I looked beyond whether I “liked” it to whether I could feel the passion and truth behind it. It made art browsing so much more interesting—and I fell for a painting of a matador and bull I certainly would have passed by were I not open to the authenticity.
Authenticity in leadership is just as important as in art. There are the fundamental techniques, and then there is the ‘art’ of making it you. Your values, your beliefs, your honesty, your integrity, your genuine concern—that is the ‘art’ of leadership. It’s what compels people to trust and follow you.
And the caveat? Everyone has the ‘inspiration’ once they commit to the courage to show up with it.
What are you painting on your leadership canvas?
Photo credit: JMaliszewski, 2017, Practicing impressionist technique at L’Orangerie, Paris