The Identity of the Artist-Leader

Featuring Daniel Collison Posted on April 19, 2008

“The single most important piece of information a leader possess is self-awareness”

–Reggie McNeal

 In modern culture the linear, sequential, hierarchical, and corporate minded personalities were typically rewarded with the highest salaries and positions. The rise of postmodern culture has challenged this assumption and is elevating the prominence of the creative, non-sequential, and random personality to the forefront. Why is this so? 1) The role of imagination and innovation is rapidly becoming the frontline of business. 2) The world is changing in discontinuous and unpredictable patterns requiring the perspective of more ‘out of the box’ thinkers. 3) The traditional concept of the hierarchical CEO isn’t compatible with the millennial generation. 4) People are clambering for work and social structures that are organizationally flat and that have more empowerment and less command and control. In response to the postmodern shifts the creative class is perfectly suited to participate and lead level, highly creative, and rapidly evolving organizations.

 The rise of the fine arts in the postmodern culture is also occurring in the ministry of the Church. This, almost by default, is placing artists into leadership positions. As leaders, artists must acclimate themselves to the responsibilities and tasks of leading other artists. Without question, the artist leader is to be concerned with all factors that a leader is required to know and be. However, there are four critical concerns specifically related to leading artists in ministry contexts: 1) Servant Leadership 2) Trust Ethic 3) Catalyst Coaching, and 4) Emotional Intelligence.

Jesus Christ is the ultimate artist. The Apostle John wrote “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” (John 1:3) Jesus, the man, was also the definitive servant. As a servant Jesus was able to, by his humble work on behalf of others, identify with the people that he led. The imitation of Jesus as servant will unlock a host of new relationships and possibilities when working with and leading others. Peter Drucker, in speaking about the ways that leaders need to develop themselves, said: “Developing yourself begins by serving, by striving toward an idea outside of yourself—not by leading.” That is the goal. Reach for the idea of Jesus, the Creator-artist that expressed his most masterful creativity while serving those he came to love and lead.

The second consideration for the artist-leader to pursue is a Trust Ethic. Kouzes and Posner assert that “Leadership is not about personality; it’s about behavior”. What kind of behavior? They write:

 What people most look for in a leader (a person that they would be willing to follow) has been constant over time. And our research documents this consistent pattern across countries, cultures, ethnicities, organization functions and hierarchies, gender, education, and age groups. For people to follow someone willingly, the majority of constituents believe the leader must be: Honest, Forward-looking, Inspiring, and Competent. -Kouzes and Posner, The Leadership Challenge.

The qualities discussed here combine to create a Trust Ethic. People trust leaders that are honest, forward-looking, inspiring, and competent. Honesty instills within people the expectation that while feedback may be hard to hear, it will be consistent and fair. The quality of forward-looking allows people to know that the leader is always anticipating what is around the corner and will do whatever is necessary to prepare the team for the future’s implications. To inspire others is to exercise, elevate, and stimulate influence upon their intellects or emotions in such a way that it quickens them into action on behalf of the group’s ideals. Competence is described by Kouzes and Posner as relevant experience and sound judgment. The combination of these leadership qualities are the building bricks of a solid trust ethic that team members come to rely on.

Third to be considered in the artist-leader identity is a Catalyst-Coaching mindset. One stereotypical image of artists is that of a loner who spends most of their time in solitude. This image appears irrelevant in the postmodern world where artists often live in community rather than communes, and in troupes rather than in solo acts. However, the challenge for the artist-leader to have a catalyst-coaching mentality prioritizes education, mentoring, and developing fellow artists to help them reach their potential. Brafman and Beckstrom think of the catalyst-coaching concept in the following way:

‘It does take a certain personality’, he said of the catalyst, ‘someone who likes to help people. Lots of people just know a lot of people,’ A catalyst, on the other hand, is ‘some-one who every time they have a conversation with someone they’re actively thinking. How can I help this person? Who can I introduce this person to? I just want to help this person, I just want to make this person better’- Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom, The Starfish and the Spider 

Brafman and Beckstrom go on to list the tools that a catalyst uses to coach others:

 Genuine interest in Others, Loose Connections (many relationships), Mapping (finding a fit), Desire to Help, Passion, Meet People There Where They Are, Emotional Intelligence, Trust, Inspiration, Tolerance for Ambiguity, Hands-Off approach, Receding (getting out of the way).

There is an often discussed coaching model where a leader: 1) Demonstrates how to do something,   2) Demonstrates the concept together with the apprentice, and 3) Supervises the apprentice operating independently. While there are numerous merits to this rather linear technique, they are greatly expanded by a multidimensional catalyst-coach mindset.

The final consideration for the artist-leader identity is a concept mentioned in the catalyst toolbox: Emotional Intelligence. Goleman, Boyatzis, and McKee describe emotional intelligence in the following way:

The key, of course, to making primal leadership work to everyone’s advantage lies in the leadership competencies of emotional intelligence: how leaders handle themselves and their relationships. Leaders who maximize the benefits of primal leadership drive the emotions of those they lead in the right direction.- Goleman, D., Boyzatzis, R., McKee, A., Primal Leadership

Goleman, Boyatzis, and McKee further explain primal leadership as existing in four domains of emotional intelligence: 1) Self-awareness 2) Self-management 3) Social awareness and 4) Relational management. Self-awareness, which is often overlooked, is the foundation for the rest. If one cannot recognize their own emotions, they will be poor at managing their own, as well as others emotions. Outstanding self-awareness includes emotional self-awareness, accurate self-assessment, and self-confidence. Leaders excel at self-management when they have self-control, transparency, adaptability, achievement, initiative, and optimism. Social awareness, particularly empathy, enhances a leader’s ability to attain resonance amid team members. However, additional qualities of social awareness include organizational awareness and service to others. Relational management for leaders includes inspiration, influence, developing others, change catalyst, conflict management, and teamwork.

In conclusion, four significant concerns in forming a leadership identity are:1) Servant Leadership 2) Trust Ethic 3) Catalyst Coaching, and 4) Emotional Intelligence. As worship leaders engage these concerns they will better be able to equip their teams for ministry in the twenty-first century.


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