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EVERY LEADER IS AN ARTIST
HOW THE WORLD'S GREATEST ARTISTS CAN MAKE YOU A MORE CREATIVE LEADER
By Michael O'Malley, William F. Baker
The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.Copyright © 2012Michael O'Malley and William F. Baker
All rights reserved.
Intent: Leadership Begins in the Mind
Question: What am I trying to accomplish?
Claude Monet was familiar with the new research on perception and light in the second half of the nineteenth century, including the work of French chemist Michel Chevreul (Chevreul originally worked with carpet dyes and later wrote a treatise on the way we see colors and, in particular, on the optical effects of neighboring colors). Monet's fascination with visual perception prompted a lifelong ambition to "paint the air": to study and represent how light breaks up on and between objects and how it scatters on reflective surfaces such as water. In one phase of his work, Monet was concerned with the changing conditions in the atmosphere between objects—in the air—or what he referred to as the enveloppe. His intent was to capture the fleeting conditions that surrounded and encapsulated objects—the subtle poetry of rural light mainly found on his Giverny estate and in neighboring fields. Specifically, he wanted to depict how weather conditions, seasonality, and the time of day influenced how we perceive objects.
In producing the atmospheric effects, Monet experimented with different ways in which people perceive—how they complete images with their minds. He understood that what he painted need not strictly correspond to actual spatial relationships and physical properties found in nature. An early example of his exploration into color and light can be seen in his historically important Impression—Sunrise. The atmosphere is everywhere as a blend of continuous hues, and Monet used indefinite boundaries to create the impression of a shimmering, pulsating sun. Interestingly, the sun stands out even though its actual brightness (luminance) is indistinguishable from the surrounding clouds.
Later, when Monet began his series on the Rouen Cathedral, his focus was again on atmospheric conditions and light. Visually, he wanted to understand the dynamic interplay of light with its subject, in this case, the French Gothic stonework exterior. At dawn, he bathed the arched portals, windows, and spires in cool tones of blue, pale pink, and purple. At sunset, he saturated the façade with fiery oranges and gold. The results stunned his audience. He analyzed London's Parliament, Venetian architecture, haystacks, poplars, and lily ponds with the same passion and intent. All are well-known subjects in his groundbreaking series of paintings. A technical perspective informed his work, but he didn't limit his understanding to current scientific color theory and advances in photography. He also embraced a global perspective through the study of Japanese woodblock prints. Acknowledging Hiroshige and other Japanese masters, he applied new compositional and design elements to his own works. Monet imagined the intangible and made it palpable through thick brushstrokes and dabs of electrifying color. At the same time, he made tangible structures seemingly dissolve, liquefy, or disintegrate on his canvas through a fusion of shimmering, atmospheric charge. The result of his extraordinary grasp of color and light was impressionism, one of the most dazzling and innovative movements in art history.
Action and Accountability Through Intent
The most arresting lesson from Monet is that the life of wonderful works begins as an abstraction—as a vague concept that the artist is invested in refining and realizing. As with art, leadership too is the embodiment of an idea. We usually refer to these ideas as vision; however, we think that word is overused and feeds the egotism of leaders. We prefer to use the word intent because it is naturally coupled with behavior, whereas vision is not. Too often the production of vision statements is a stand-alone exercise with no forward thrust: meaningful strings of words with no impetus behind them. On the other hand, intent is the immediate precursor to action. Intentions keep us focused on what is most important to us and guide our behaviors accordingly. In addition, unlike vision, intent situates responsibility. When the author of an idea states what he or she is trying to do, there is no question who is supposed to do it.
Intent, perhaps, finds its nearest expression in a company's mission statement, but again, we think intent has advantages for its:
1. Intuitive, compact simplicity
2. Clarity and specificity—as opposed to nebulous wishful thinking
3. Usability throughout the organizational hierarchy
4. Unambiguous link to action and accountability
Indeed, vision and mission have become the products of ritualistic corporate exercises that rest inertly on walls or in corporate promotional materials as camouflage for the real business of making money. If the mission were so important, then presumably you would know what yours is. Do you? Intentions cut through corporate-speak by which we exhaustively dissemble vision, mission, objectives, and goals, often getting trapped in the minutiae of an esoteric exercise and losing sight of our true aims. All we really want to know is, "What is the problem you are trying to solve, and what are you going to do about it?" The specific aims generally are to enhance the organization's ability to compete by improving upon the many facets of innovation, operational efficiency, and executional excellence. At the highest corporate levels, expressed purposes may include bringing families closer together, promoting healthier lifestyles, making people happier, and nourishing the human spirit. Like Monet's strivings, these intentions are fantastic, and their resolution can only be loosely planned. The problems are difficult, poorly defined, and open to many possible solutions, some of which only will become apparent over time. If you want to achieve the impossible, then you will have to be able to live with ambiguity, periodic setbacks and disappointments, and occasional self-doubt.
Lifelong Path to Excellence
You should prepare yourself for a lengthy and trying exercise. One of the most notable aspects of Monet's work is that he devoted himself to his self-imposed problem for decades. He was consumed by getting it right. While he could have been resting peaceably on his estate in his later years, he continued his rigorous exploration of light and color. Once started, a journey of this magnitude is never entirely satisfactorily concluded. There is always more to do and to perfect. On the other hand, had Monet's intentions initially been fame and fortune, there would have been a logical end state. In that case, there is nothing special to work on except how to mingle with the right crowd and accumulate wealth. The effort shifts from making real art to producing agreeable re-creations and cultivating public relations. Similarly, if your purposes are to acquire power, enrich yourself, and control a vast corporate empire, the skills you will need for success will be quite different than if your ultimate aims are sublime. The great artists of the Salon or workplace have more enduring and uplifting motives and intentions than vainglorious ones.
The best leaders we have watched and spoken with over the years all have one thing in common: early in their careers, they all wanted to excel at their craft, which included managing others well. Therefore, they commenced a lifelong study into the nature of leadership and, from their formative years onward, carefully observed how others succeeded and failed at it. They were able to learn from others because they were looking at the right things, importing into their behavioral repertoires what they believed they could use someday. They borrowed from the best, seeking out their fee
Excerpted from EVERY LEADER IS AN ARTIST by Michael O'Malley. Copyright © 2012 by Michael O'Malley and William F. Baker. Excerpted by permission of The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc..
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