Where Genius and Leadership Meet

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Those of you who have followed my posts know how strongly I feel about the arts being a very important component of business, and especially Leadership Skills.   Yes we all need the hard business and analytical skills, but, in today’s environment that won’t make you stand out. Let me illustrate.

A few weeks ago I had the incredibly good fortune to be in London during three amazing experiences. In two days I visited the Elvis exhibit (from Graceland) at the O2 arena; Savage Beauty (Alexander McQueen) exhibit at the Victoria and Albert Museum and watched Kevin Spacey reprise his role as Clarence Darrow at the Old Vic Theatre. What do a singer songwriter legend; a designer and an actor have in common?   This is where genius and leadership meet. In fact I was moved to tears multiple times by the beauty, the strength, the breaking of the established rules to create an unsurpassable end result.

Elvis revolutionized the music industry by his willingness to try new approaches, to break the rules, to bring his amazing voice to a generation, which he changed irrevocably. He defined charisma, sex appeal and the “guy next door”. Over 40 years after his death his music and his magic endure.

Lee (Alexander) McQueen learned as a tailors apprentice to follow the rules so that he could then break them in his designs. He turned the design world upside down by his use of materials and design. Every piece a perfect work of art in it’s own right is a testament to his skill, vision and his love of what he did.

Kevin Spacey had a wonderful career in Hollywood when he left after American Beauty to move to London to take over the ailing and failing Old Vic Theatre. He leaves the theatre in strong shape in this his last year as Artistic Director. His one-man show portraying Clarence Darrow is a masterpiece of fine acting, humour, connection with the audience, all things you would expect of an actor of his caliber. What caught me totally off guard was his willingness to expose the depth of his emotion during the performance. I found myself stunned by the sheer compassion in virtuoso portrayal of Darrow. His closing words left an indelible mark on a seasoned and sometimes jaded theatre aficionado.

Each of these three and very separate events inspired a depth of emotion which bubbled up like an unstoppable volcano. This is where genius and leadership meet.

This ability to bring forth a depth of emotion from the genius of their art isn’t about trying to be authentic, or trying to engage the audience….this is about the sheer joy they each brought to their work, their commitment to being the best, the willingness to do what ever it takes to push the bar higher. It’s Leadership through Genius.

Genius is usually defined as some version of “exceptional intellectual or creative powers” and Leadership as “moving others towards the achievement of a goal.” So if we put those together we see Genius and Leadership as moving people toward a goal through exceptional creative powers.

The key element here is emotion; the depth of feeling such a genius leader evokes.   You can’t fake it. Once you’ve experienced it you will follow that person without question since you’ve already connected on a deep and personal level.

What did I learn? Humour, compassion, break the rules, do what you love, trust yourself, trust your audience, disrupt the status quo to create something unique.

One of the few recent business leaders who combined this was Steve Jobs at Apple. Their products are ground breaking works of art.

No we can’t all bring genius to leadership, but we can learn to connect on a deeper emotional level, which our team will recognize. So put away that business book and go to see a play, visit a museum, or, go to a concert.

I would love to hear how an artistic experience has moved you and what is has brought to your work.

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