leadership art

Ever since I read Max DePree’s Leadership Jazz (great book, btw), I’ve always considered leadership to be both an art and a science.  But I find there‘s a lot more content about the science of leadership (organizational design, management principles, etc.) than there is about the art.

However I recently came across three interesting perspectives on leadership art which I thought I’d share:

1. “Business is a playground” – Andrew Cherng, founder and co-CEO of Panda Express, the 1,350 unit “fast casual” restaurant chain with $1.4BB in annual sales, says, “Business is where you practice your human skills.  It’s where you grow.”

These statements might sound a little strange at first, but they reflect an approach to leadership which is about helping folks discover their true selves and unleash the human spirit all in the name of corporate growth.  As reported in a recent Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Cherng regularly holds sessions for restaurant managers based on the Landmark Forum, a program run by a self-help organization “designed to bring about positive and permanent shifts in the quality of your life”  through “a guided dialogue between the instructor and participants.

If this seems a little touchy-feely, it’s not – it’s A LOT touchy-feely.  Lots of hugging and crying and personal confessions happen.  And ultimately, personal growth.  Cherng explains, “You have to grow!  You grow as a person,  and then you will grow in business.

2. “Real change comes from real feelings” – For this month’s Fast Company, Dan and Chip Heath wrote a column about organization’s emotional turning points.

Using examples like a CEO who was frustrated that his employees weren’t maxing out their 401(k) investments and a urologist who was disgusted by the infrequency of hand-washing by doctors and nurses at his hospital, they explain how feelings can be powerful change motivators.

By dramatizing the effect of a point (pouring out bags of cash to show how much money people were leaving on the table by forgoing their lack of enrollment, for example), leaders can inspire change more effectively than through the standard business tools of facts and statistics. Think about how powerful the following feelings would be if they framed business strategies and tactics:

As the Heath brothers explain, “This focus on feelings is unnatural in the business world…but knowing something isn’t enough…It takes emotion to bring knowledge to a boil.”

3. “Management is the most creative of arts” – Creativity is probably not the first association that comes to mind when you think of Robert S. McNamara, Secretary of Defense during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations.

It’s more likely you link him with what the Harvard Business Review recently called “the tragedy of the Vietnam War.”  But the article points out that McNamara “was regarded as a brilliant manager in the decades before and after [the war] – in both public and private sector roles.”  And, in the midst of one of his and the nation’s most trying times, he set out his vision of the role of management in a convocation address at Millsaps College in Jackson, MS.  He declared, “Management is, in the end, the most creative of all the arts – for its medium is human talent itself…[Successful management] is the mechanism whereby free men can most efficiently exercise their reason, initiative, creativity, and personal responsibility.

I found each of these perspectives refreshing, and taken as a whole, a much needed balance to the dry and somewhat pedantic approach to leadership more commonly documented in business papers and industry journals.  I’m inspired.  You?

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