The Art of Leadership

Quick. Who is the best guitar player, alive or dead?

Got someone in mind?

Okay, why are they so great? Technical prowess? Ability to write great guitar riffs? Is it how they perform live in front of an audience?

Regardless of who you think is the best, I’m pretty sure there is a strong element of art in who they are as a player. That art however, does not come without working on and perfecting the craft.

Leadership and management are very much the same. Each has an element of craft that must be learned, practiced, and refined. Both have an element of art, or the expression of the craft. You cannot have great art without hours and hours of working on the craft. Similarly, you cannot fully express the hours of working on the craft without the art and expression of the craft. Great managers spend hours on the craft of learning the skills of building processes, refining them, and training their teams to perform those processes as efficiently as possible. The art of management comes in the implementation of the plans and strategies within the context of the craft.

The craft in leadership is all the hours spent learning the ideas, strategies, and theories of leadership. It is the time and experience gathered in listening to people and talking to them. The craft is in the practice of listening and understanding the people a leader has charge of. The art of leadership is found in the relationships built, the trust developed, the release of authority and resources to these relationships to further the purpose of the organization.

Both the art of management and the art of leadership are measurable. The difference is that management measurements are more tangible in nature. Leadership measurables tend to be less tangible The impact on the organization in both arenas are seen and felt, by all stakeholders.

Resist the temptation as a leader to allow the feeling or emotion of being valued by the organization only if you are demonstrating a tangible result to drive your motivation. I know this sounds counterintuitive, but it takes courage to stand against this cultural mindset. It is damaging to the long-term health of the organization. A company is more than just the numbers. A corporation is a body of people coming together to accomplish a vision. A purpose. Numbers and processes are a result of the pursuit of that vision. Many companies have this backwards. They pursue profit and process as the penultimate goal and people development is a result or afterthought to that pursuit.

It takes courage to change. It takes perseverance to push back against the relentless tide of status quo. I saw that first hand when a new professor came to my undergraduate program many years ago. He was a jazz cat, full of musical and business talent. At the time, John Berry was working for Hal Leonard Publishing as one of their top arrangers for Jr. High, High School, and College jazz bands and ensembles. He was starting a new program at the college, a Commercial Music Degree, which at the time, was a unique program. I was one of three students the first semester it was offered.

From the start, John covered not just musical composition and arranging, but also production techniques, sound engineering techniques, and how to write a proper business letter to publishers and other industry people. It was very different work, and difficult, as he was an expert in grammar and exacting in language and structure.

After a few weeks, the three students became just one – me. I became his only student for the rest of the year. I took advantage of the opportunity and began asking him to teach me all he knew on the music business, from touring and road management, to leading artists and musicians in the studio, to running a business in the entertainment industry. I learned many important lessons from John, the most important were around craft and art.


He pushed me hard to learn my craft so the art would flow through me…

John pushed me hard on the craft of the music industry. He was a living example of how hours upon hours of hard, consistent work on the craft paid off when it came time for the art. After the year was up, I was well on my way to expressing the art from my craft in multiple ways musically, as a business person, and as a new leader in the industry. When the performance opportunity came, I was ready. I was able to express the art in my musicianship, my producing of other artists, my writing and arranging of music, and communication to artists and artisans in the industry. John poured into me with the vision and purpose of leadership in music and business. He showed me how to get there within the work of the craft. There is no art without the craft.

The best leaders, and companies are the ones that understand not only the craft, but the art of leadership. They are able to encourage and inspire their people in ways that move them forward in developing their skills and expressing the art of that skill in everything they do. When that happens, you will see real magic happening in the team and in the organization. You will experience the art in your own leadership. There will be a living, breathing dynamic to the work you do together that will elevate everyone.

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