The Abstract Leader

FullSizeRender (4)

I don’t like to plan. I think that is why I prefer to do abstract art. When I draw, I just put my pen to paper and see where the drawing takes me: sometimes a sketch, other times a design and sometimes a mess.

I think that art, life and leadership are similar. They each require humility and learning in order to make any progress. With each one, there is no perfection, only growth.

  • In art we call this process a sketch, a shitty first draft (I give credit to Ann Lamott for that gem), making a mess.
  • In life we call it growth. And it is messy.
  • In leadership, we call it process, brainstorming, entrepreneurship and change management.

“There is no perfection, only growth”


FullSizeRender (6)

When I paint an abstract, it is hard to gauge when a piece is done. I go by feel. Sometimes a piece looks great in the moment but later all I see is mess. Leadership can be a process where the growth is slow and messy. It feels like we are moving ahead but we really are doing little more than mixing colors and creating beige. Is beige an actual color, or a lifestyle? Improvement may not always bring the results that we desire.

When I paint I have a rich process. I get inspiration from anything around me or inside of me: napkins, architecture, nature, TV or even boredom. I read good books and cultivate ideas because if my spirit is well, I have a deep well (pun intended). If I am not well, I cannot create my best work because I am preoccupied. I collect rough ideas in a sketchbook or journal. Now I am to imagine the concept. I make some doodles or drawings and as much as I dislike it, a rough plan brings the image to life. I envision the color and the execution as I prepare my brushes and the canvas. And even with all of that, the actual painting experience is process of doing and re-doing and it may look quite different than the original plan. And sometimes, amazingly, it even looks better than the plan.

Leadership also has it’s own rich process. There is never a finished or completed task in one sitting by one person. Leadership begins in the imagination, drawing on the spirit of the leader, their team, the customers and the aspirations for a particular project or theme. (I will come back to themes in another blog. I recommend James’s Altucher’s article because for me, themes resonate better than goals.) Leadership calls on the senses, the energy and the emotions that give life to an idea. Leadership needs planning but every plan experiences revision and rebirth. Just try instituting a “Change Management Plan” and see how well the first attempt goes. You can have a room full of executives, but it can be a mess when it hits the canvas. The first draft may be a mess, but it can always improve.

Every day is a rough draft.”

FullSizeRender (7)

In my life, I have had so many re-do’s I have lost count. I have had jobs in retail, wholesale, restaurant, customer service, faith-based and ‘secular.’ I have worked in for-profit and in non-profit sectors. I have started and ended two (very small) personal businesses. I have moved up from front line to supervisor, then back to front line to supervisor and now management. Not one of these experiences has been wasted. In life, there is never a finish, never an end until The End. Life is the most fun when we use our Imaginations, our Spirits and our Senses. In a way, every day is a rough draft with the theme of improving on the day before.

I think this is why I love working in the addiction-recovery sector. In recovery, less-than-perfect days, mis-steps and mistakes are expected. They are the raw colors that get mixed on the canvas of honesty. Growth happens there, if we are willing. Life and leadership have that potential too.

I also know that abstract art can go wrong. The vision gets lost beneath the color and the image. The mess may become too messy. Art can be misinterpreted or misunderstood and this is hard. Taking things personally is so easy. When we create something, it may be rejected. When we take a risk, we pour ourselves into our work. For me, that is what makes rejection so hard. Then when I get into the mix and self-criticize, things get ugly.

“Is beige an actual color, or a lifestyle?”

FullSizeRender (5)

Rejection and feedback are part of improving what we do and they can be experienced in a healthy way. If I truly am painting (or writing, or leading, or living) so that other’s may feel joy or grow or accomplish something important, even a little, then I need to hear what they think. Rejection is just information. It is not personal.

In leadership and in life, things can go wrong. We lead a team and they begin to fight with each other. We take a course and the content is overwhelming. We take a new position and it is nothing like we imagined. We set a goal to adopt a new lifestyle and it is too much change. Our vision can get lost, the mess can become too messy. That’s why we sleep. Our bodies flush yesterday out and take on new energy. Leadership, good leadership is not afraid to take a fresh look, step back, reflect and ask for help. I think it takes courage to see our strengths, to see what is working along with what needs to change.

So, get your canvas. Go ahead and make a mess. Trust me, the canvas doesn’t bite.

 “The problem isn’t painting; it’s what to do when you aren’t painting.”

Jackson Pollock

Keep it real

One thought on “The Abstract Leader

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s