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Recently one of my sons called to talk about his job. This particular son loves the work he does, is committed to his company, and spends much of his free time strategizing ways he can improve his and the company’s performance. Needless to say, I am proud of my grown child. This is why I am growling like a mama bear this morning as I rethink our recent conversation.

My son was calling to tell me about a manager who made some changes to reassert his authority over my son and the rest of the staff.  The changes were minor, but they spoke volumes about what is often so wrong with our world and how mismanagement, or a misguided sense of what power means, saps the vitality, creativity, and joy out of so many of lives.

I am worried that if this manager continues to dominate instead of lead, my son will become resentful, his productivity will decline, and his creativity will wane. At some point, there will be a parting of ways. The company will lose a bright, creative employee. My son may learn how to go along to get along, hide his passion and enthusiasm, and settle into the adulthood that is the norm — one in which his hope and dreams are replaced by frustration, ennui, and a lack of fulfillment.

Because I don’t want him to go there, and lose the spark that makes him so beautiful, I’ve been wondering  what to say to him that will help him ride the inevitable actions of poor leaders. That led me to think about what makes a good leader. Obviously, billions of dollars are spent every year trying to isolate the things that define good leadership and to develop training programs so leaders can be better, but I think good leadership is rooted in the same qualities that make a good artist.

From my perspective as a business woman and an artist, here is what makes a good leader (and a happy human being).

  • Leaders are creative, willing to learn from others around them, and are driven to make a difference.
  • They possess a confidence that inspires others and they are not afraid to make mistakes.
  • They lead by example.
  • They are courageous and  empathetic.
  • They are not intimidated or threatened by other’s successes. In fact, they rejoice in them.
  • They are disciplined. They keep working and stay committed to their vision.
  • They are also flexible because they know that there is not a single right way to do anything and understand that doing the same thing over and over again generates the same results.
  • They know who they are and aren’t trying to prove anything. They don’t need to because they are fulfilled by the challenge of doing, and are their own best critics.

In summary, good leaders are like artists. Passionate, visionary, not afraid to try something new to get where they are going, and not afraid to fail, they are engaged, alive, curious, and aware. They do not allow themselves to be trapped by pettiness or power-hungry people. Good leaders know that the company needs them more than they need the company. Like a canvas or a ball of clay, each new venture is another blank slate that furthers them along their own path. They know that all their efforts to cut, add, mottle, might mean starting over with a new work, or they might create a masterpiece. They follow the thread of their own passion where it will lead and inspire others to follow them.

Good leaders know that their life is their greatest work of art and that they shape their own destinies. Consequently, their personal sense of power is never threatened and they never have to lord it over anyone else. Instead, they look for those who understand what it means to be a leader and do what they can to nurture those same attributes in those that are on a similar path.

Are you a leader in your life? Do you hold your vision, stay true to your discipline, and encourage others? Are you courageous when you write or paint, sculpt or sing? Are you willing to listen, try new techniques, and make mistakes?

The more we allow the artist inside us to get out the better our lives become, because when we are fully engaged as the creative, passionate, aware people we were all born to be, power is no longer an issue, competition becomes meaningless, and petty insecurities disappear. As we claim our right, and our humanity, we inspire others to do the same.