Leadership is Art

When true leaders speak, we listen.  When they lead, we follow.  Why?  Leadership compass Wayne O'Neill and AssociatesThough some CEO’s would say they became a leader through sheer luck or simply being in the right place at the right time, most successful leaders demonstrate a set of skills beyond technical or managerial.  Sure there is a science that studies leadership, but leadership is also art.  Successful leaders have mastered the art of awareness and see the world in different ways.  In order to be a great leader, you cannot just be a spectator or stay safely in the middle comfort zone, but you have to be willing to step out and become vulnerable.  That idea will go against the grain of those who are misguided into thinking that they can lead by psychologically manipulating, grabbing power, bullying others, or hacking public relations.  Successful leaders instead inspire loyalty, respect, emulation, and love in ways that bring a better life for both the leader and the group being led.


In the timeless book, Leadership Is An Art, by Max De Pree, chairman emeritus of Herman Miller Inc and founder of the Center for Leadership, Max stresses the importance of building relationships, initiating ideas, and creating a lasting value system within an organization. He shows that the first responsibility of a leader is to define reality and the last is to say thank you.  From his practical experience, he says, “My definition of a leader is a person who has followers. Leaders are those from whom we learn. They influence the setting of a society’s agenda. They have visions. They acknowledge the authenticity of persons. They create. Leaders set standards. Leaders are those who endow us with surprising legacies. They meet the needs of followers, and their behavior and words positively reinforce the best in our society. Leaders trumpet the breaking up and the breaking down of civility. They offer hope and they say “There is hope.” They are givers and they are takers. They ask the painful and necessary questions. They are those who create trust, and they are those who accept responsibility for their own behavior.”


Deepak Chopra, MD is the author of more than 70 books with twenty-one New York Times bestsellers and serves as Adjunct Professor at Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, Adjunct Professor at Columbia Business School, Columbia University.  Seven skills of successful leaders are organized by Chopra into the acronym:  L.E.A.D.E.R.S.  It stands for:

L = Look and listen.  Leaders have shifted from a more authoritarian style where followers were expected to listen and obey, to a more collaborative style where listening and observing with all your senses and attentive body awareness becomes crucial.   If you can capture clues about people and issues, avoid interrupting, reserve judgment, observe with an open mind and curiosity, and listen with your heart as well as your head, then you will be able to respond with vision and deep purpose.

E = Emotional bonding.  Use your emotional intelligence to bring out the best in others.  Stop viewing others as your rivals.  Reduce needless melodrama and crisis mode.  Hostility develops if there are warring factions, gossip, undermining rivalry, and displays of passive aggressive behaviors.  Get rid of emotional toxicity to understand the specific needs of your followers, empathize more and raise morale.   They create lasting emotional bonds and balance their emotions with reason. They share enthusiasm, show genuine caring, build relationships instead of only caring for those who benefit them, want to spend time with you, build the self esteem of others, reinforce the strength of others, give emotional freedom and resolve conflict by focusing on problem resolution not the person. In order to do this competition has to be reduced and collaboration elevated.  Emotionally intelligent leaders trust their first impressions, make snap judgments but are not impulsive, and act intuitively.  They spend less time than others in second-guessing and self-recrimination.  They have the emotional insight to know who is best for each job.

Emotionally intelligent leaders have a magnetic personality that makes people want to:

  • Connect closely to them for inspiration and lasting emotional bonds
  • Serve with, beside, or under them
  • Perform at top levels to bring them closer to the leader
  • See possible stumbling blocks, solve problems and share in the leader’s vision
  • Contribute to the leader’s success.

A = Awareness. Puts selfishness and competitiveness aside in order to anticipate what the group and their competition is thinking and feeling.  This means being aware of the following questions that underlie every challenge: Who am I? What do I want? What does the situation demand? As a leader, you must ask these questions of yourself and inspire your team to ask for themselves.  Chopra says, “Awareness is like an antenna, constantly assessing the feedback being sent both inside and outside.  It is the birthplace of possibility.  As a leader, those whom you lead and serve depend on your perception of the situation.  You must reach inside for the right response.”

He identifies the following critical ingredients of awareness:

  • Know yourself and keep expanding your self-image as your career unfolds.
  • Know your vision and apply it despite obstacles and downturns.
  • Be self-guided rather than shaped by outside forces.
  • Extend what you want to what others need.
  • Be the lighthouse for your vision, inspiring others to join.

D = Dare to Dream a new reality and Do it.  As a leader, you must be action-oriented. In whatever you do, you must serve as a role model, held responsible for the promises you have made. This requires persistence but also the ability to view any situation with flexibility and humor.

E = Empowerment. In addition to being self-aware, successful leaders produce realistic self assessment, respond to feedback, do not take criticism personally and do not let flattery influence their decisions. Empowerment isn’t selfish. It raises the status of leader and follower together.

R = Responsibility. This means showing initiative, taking mature risks rather than reckless ones, walking the talk, having integrity, and living up to your inner values.

S = Synchronicity. This is a mysterious ingredient from the unconscious that all great leaders harness. Synchronicity is the ability to create good luck and find invisible support that carries a leader beyond predicted outcomes to a higher plane. In spiritual terms, synchronicity is the ultimate ability to connect any need with an answer from the soul.


According to Seth Godin, author of V is for Vulnerable:  Life Outside the Comfort Zone, a compelling book that may appear to be a kid’s book at first glance, but actually highlights twenty-six key powerful principles for hard working adults who want to see the world differently and do great work.  If you read my last blog, The Art of Creating New Work, then you know that who we are,  everything we do, and what we need can be viewed as art.  One of the key characteristics in today’s leader is the willingness to be bravely vulnerable.  Great leaders today realize that to “stay the course” could result in diminishing ROI, therefore you may captain your ship in unchartered waters or like Alexander the Great, marching your team right off the map so that new maps will be written.


As Seth Godin says, “Vulnerable is the only way we can feel when we truly share the art we’ve made.  When we share it, when we connect, we have shifted all the power and made ourselves naked in front of the person we’ve given the gift of our art to.  We have no excuses, no manual to point to, no standard operating procedure to protect us.  And that is part of our gift.”


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