Reflections on art and leadership

I use my art to reflect an artist and a senior manager in the financial services industry. I notice that the deeper I understand myself the more I succeed to impact others; in both art and work.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Assessing possible added value of art in business

Some time ago I was asked to present about my art and leadership approach to a group of professionals; managers, consultants on leadership and artists that are trying to deliver services to business.

It was interesting to understand how different people thought about the role that art can play in personal and business context. Several options and views were brought forward, and I will try to summarise the key elements that I observed.

a. art is a nice decoration and in some cases could be an investment
Nothing really more than that. The view would be that art and business are completely different topics and maybe even two different 'worlds'.

b. provide art related workshops
Making art together as a sort of team building, or using as a metaphor to obtain learning, and creating a shared image of the strategy (create and attractive visualisation of our 'target' and our added value)

c. reflect more conceptually on personal and business approach/leadership
Art traditionally is more seen as 'autonomous' and strongly reflective. Art concepts and ideas can be used to reflect on behaviour, finding direction, inspiration, and challenge our views or innovate our approach.

"Presenting your business"
From cartoons website
I observed that some artists in the group normally focus on a limited part of element b (provide art related workshops), where they try to find ways to integrate their artistic talents into business and 'sell what they can offer'. This you could see as a 'supply-based' approach where we sell-what-we-have. In these discussions I also observe that several artists do not actually always 'know' from the inside what challenges companies are facing.
From personal experience I would say it is actually a good starting point to focus on what companies actually 'need' based on the challenges they face (which is more 'demand-based'). This also helps the manager to 'sell' a program to his management, as in the end each investment will be judged by its results and concrete added value.
In this case there are currently several topics and trends in companies where art could be helpful to reflect and find solutions. Providing 2 examples here that I have encountered:

  • More and more companies try to be 'efficient' and 'effective', using often methods such as 'Lean 6 sigma' or varieties of Total Quality Management. At the same time workload is increasing as staff numbers have strongly reduced. People feel a loss of energy as a consequence of the increased work pressure, the challenges that are quantitative and less qualitative and the lack of appealing direction. And as a result management does not succeed to reach the actual goals. Art concepts can be used to create insight and re-create inspiration, energise people and actually reach new goals or find new added value services.
  • In large companies middle managers have a hidden but important role; they need to achieve ambitious objectives and at the same time ensure human resources are motivated to go through these changes and walk the extra miles to achieve these goals. The role of the managers is key in a) ensuring there is a clear direction from the top, and reach actual decisions for the 'real' choices the company faces, b) creating the right conditions for the people to deliver the results and c) people are stimulated to participate and contribute ideas, after which the manager should support these ideas towards implementation. In the centre of all this the middle manager has to motivate him/herself and influence without always having direct or hierarchical power. Art can help to create insight in required creative approaches and self-direct and self-energise the middle manager.

Taking concrete business challenges as a starting point, and then engaging with people from the business side (and probably from other areas too) can help to really find added value for art into business. And I am convinced this added value exists, without directly transforming the manager into an artist.

I find it interesting to explore a bit more to which extent people find there is a role for art in business, and based on my observations so far I decided to start a poll. The poll will be published on this site and I would really appreciate if you could fill in and share with others to provide better insight in 'how people think about a role of art in business'.
Comments, ideas and personal experiences and/or insights are of course welcome too.

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