Leadership is an art, but the finished product may seem as abstract as Picasso’s Guernica–profound, impactful, overpowering, and quite frankly, hard for some people to understand. Like other art forms, leadership is an expression of the artist’s world view. An x-ray of his heart. An open letter to the world declaring his values, passions, and priorities.
In the workplace, the “art” of leadership may transmute into executive mandates and company policies; and may set the tone for the corporate culture. Each master stroke will depend on the type of leader wielding the brush.
An officious leader may transform the workplace into a creatively claustrophobic and confining environment. Drunk with power and authority, this leader is probably not aware that he’s wielding his brush like a machete. He’s self-absorbed and yet completely lacking in self-awareness.
Demanding that the spotlight always be on him, his masterpiece will probably be a self-portrait: a picture of one lone tree surrounded by a forest of fallen trees that he mowed down in his wake.
Every jot and tittle of his leadership style is all about him–his image; his professional goals; and his climb up the corporate ladder. His team is just a means to an end–his own–and if anybody gets trampled along the way, so be it. In his mind, their “sacrifice” is for a worthy cause–his success. Not unlike, Picasso’s Guernica, his is a portrait depicting the horrors of an ego-driven war.
A wise leader knows that the only thing you can do with roadkill is to stuff it and mount it. It’s ornamental, but useless otherwise. No doubt thousands of American office cubicles are full of roadkill. Tragic. So much creativity and innovation get wasted by leaders who are too myopic to tap into it.
While leadership is an art, the best leadership styles require skill and fluid technique.
The best leaders are willing to work at their craft. They’re not afraid to fail. They’re not so insecure that they cover up mistakes–or blame others for their gaffs–to protect their image.
Strong leaders strive to master the art of being human. They give everyone around them the room to be human as well. They’re comfortable in their own skins, which makes them both teachable and approachable. They’re secure enough to embrace the process of trial and error during the creative process–learning from their own mistakes, and supporting colleagues when they err, but want to get it right.
Their palette is full of wisdom, strength, compassion, and humor. They don’t take themselves so seriously that everyone else has to acquiesce to their slightest change of mood or to their major changes in policy. For this leader, his greatest masterpiece is his cultivation of a healthy working relationship with each member of his team.