One of my great pleasures post-opera season is catching up on reading. I’ve slammed through three books, countless magazines and a daily date with the New York Times, and am trying desperately to get rid of all of the (1,000+) notations on my Google Reader.
(It’s a bit of a task, as I am something of a virtual hoarder. Before you ask, I will not be going on Bravo tv to reveal the size of my email archives or the shopping lists from 2006 that are still on my computer’s hard drive. The answer is an unequivocal “No.”)
I stumbled across two great articles in the Harvard Business Review that really speak to me.
The first (which you can find here) focused on the traits that great artists and great leaders share. The author, Michael O’Malley, calls out twelve specific traits ranging from Intent (the desire to be superlative) and Skill (having the tools to bring a vision to fruition) to Pleasure (providing occasions for emotional buy-in and fulfillment) and Criticism (looking for and incorporating feedback). I for one think that any kind of arts training sets up these building blocks in concrete ways, and can cite several examples from my own experiences. (I’d share mine, but I’m guessing that you’ve got one or two yourself – I’d love to hear yours, either via email or in the comments.)
The second (you can find it here) is about the importance of kindness in business. William C. Taylor cites some beautiful examples about businesses who made a personal connection -and tangentially won significant attention – because they did the right thing and were nice to someone in need. It’s easier in the arts I think to cling to this idea, because we all know how negativity can sabotage the most promising production/process. It’s one of the areas in which my boss excels (although she’s pretty darn clever to boot – make no bones about it.), and that contributes to a wonderful atmosphere, high retention, excellent product and strong word-of-mouth press. It’s not a surprise that I found this book on her bookshelf several years ago…and if you know me, also not a surprise that it’s still being held hostage on my bookshelf.
I keep coming back to one particular kernel of truth: once an artist, always an artist. I am encouraged to see the for-profit sector embracing the thought of artistry in leadership, but I wonder if the gatekeepers – those HR personnel charged with finding creative problem-solvers – know enough about the training to actually place some of those non-traditional resumés in the Yes pile, to take a risk on someone who might have the skill base but not the industry experience. I challenge the industry, and all of us who have started as performers and art-makers, to find actual, practical value in an arts education, and to once and for all lose the tired stereotype that artists are scattered and unreliable and far too difficult to work with. You cannot value the traits without also valuing the artists who exhibit those traits, who study to perfect those skills, and the institutions who shape their careers as working artists, recreational artists, arts consumers, and at-large members of the national workforce.
Thanks for listening. Let’s all try something a little out-of-the-box, shall we?