For most of my adult life, I have had a foot in two worlds: leadership and art. While I led organizations, I was also an artist. As a leader, I set agendas, managed groups, delegated responsibilities, and supervised personnel. Then, when I went home from work, I painted and sculpted in my studio.
Now that I have retired from running organizations and serve as a leadership coach and consultant, I have given much thought to the relationship between the two seemingly disparate worlds. I have come to believe that leadership and art actually have much in common. In fact, they are mutually reinforcing. Both are creative acts, and both utilize divergent thinking skills.
Artists and leaders operate within parameters, some of which are tightly proscribed. Leaders manage the parameters of budget and personnel constraints, for example, while artists wrestle with the restrictions of materials, space, and technique. Instead of seeing these parameters as limiting, however, great leaders and great artists use the challenges presented by parameters as opportunities.
Great artists and great leaders have highly developed divergent thinking skills. Divergent thinking doesn't just happen, however. It requires practice. If the divergent thinking muscle is not exercised, it atrophies, and the same-old, same-old solutions result.
All leaders would be wise to keep a foot in two worlds, one foot in the leadership practice of running their organization and the other in a serious creative activity such as painting, sculpting, music, acting, dancing, or writing. Practicing divergent thinking is one way to ensure that leaders think outside of the box, beyond the same-old, same-old.