PMI Bangalore Chapter

PM Article -The Art and Soul of Leadership

The Art and Soul of Leadership

-Lata Subramanian

Leadership is primarily about grooming employees to punch above their weight. One way to achieve that is by nurturing employee self-development through exposure to the Arts and the Humanities. Help employees grow and flourish and so will the organization. Let’s call it The Art and Soul of Leadership.

Central to the thought process I am positing here is the fact that an organization becomes a living entity only after people breathe life into it.

The life thus infused into a business becomes the soul of the organization and is labelled organizational culture. Conscious moulding of that life is the art and soul of leadership.

Key to understanding this seemingly abstract thinking are three simple facts.

First, people work to raise the quality of life for their families and selves. That being the case, people’s anxieties mostly revolve around keeping a job and progressing enough in their career to satisfactorily provide for themselves and their families. These anxieties have increased with the introduction of artificial intelligence, outsourcing, contract labour and the rise of the on-demand and shared services economy.

Second, many a person is riddled with uncertainty on the job and is scared to ask for help. People need mentoring in professional and personal self-development. And organizations largely fail to provide it. Mostly, people are on their own. Which is why the world is divided between go-getters and also-rans. That’s sad since many an also-ran could be a go-getter with some help. Why don’t organizations have counsellors to help people in their quest for self-development and progress?

Third, people spend their maximum waking hours on the job. When the work environment is stimulating, caring and happy, people would look forward to another work day. In such a scenario, people will also feel more secure and contribute to the organization much more.

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How do you think roping in the Arts and the Humanities will aid employee self-development and actively nurture the soul of an organization?

Here are some ways:

Creativity and Innovation: One needs to be sensitized to the big picture for creative (innovative) breakthroughs. Unfortunately, daily work pressures leave very little room to walk the streets observing life go by. Or, just talk to people figuring out what makes them tick. The Arts and the Humanities are very good at understanding life, drawing the big picture and imagining the future. Actively engaging professionals from these streams may do wonders to stimulate creative thinking in employees. We know how people can be encouraged to dream of endless possibilities by holding discussions on books, movies and news within office hours. I am suggesting if organizations can bring in authors, musicians, theatre folk, etc., to help employees understand life and stimulate dreaming. Most people tend to live in their own narrow little worlds in an ever-expanding and changing universe. The Arts and the Humanities will help expand their horizons.

Communication Skills: There are two aspects to excellent communication. One, what is the message you wish to convey. And two, how well that message is expressed. Who better than an author, music artist or theatre personality to teach communication skills and creative expression?

Teamwork: Perhaps one of the biggest challenges faced by leadership everywhere is instituting a culture of teamwork. How does one get a group of people to pull together in the direction the organization needs them to? It’s difficult because there is too much competition for the few slots available at the top. Worse, office politics can, and often does, kill good ideas.

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Bringing people together through Arts and Humanities will help people understand life, themselves, the big picture and also helps break the ice. Take music for example. Nothing works as well as music to soothe tempers. According to Leonid Pervolsky (Harvard University), music actually helps navigate a world rife with contradictions. Consider that nothing works magic like a discussion on a good movie or book. It’s neutral ground and of interest to all. It’s also a great way to demonstrate that people can work together to understand, analyse and draw inspiration. I recently got my team together and held a discussion on the film ‘The Imitation Game’. I used it as case material to teach my team the role human psychology plays in arriving at breakthrough insights. We spent an hour in a state of animation and camaraderie. Another time, I organized a musical lunch to provide a stress breaker. Needless to say, it worked. And, the strains of music and food aromas bought many a curious colleague to our corner of the Sterling office.

Being a Good Employer: I recently came across this great article, ‘Companies Led By Moral Bosses Are Actually More Profitable’. It reports on a study conducted by leadership consulting firm KRW International, which concludes that good character also means good business. Amongst other character traits, the KRW report highlighted ‘virtuoso CEOs’ as standing up for the right issues, expressing concern for others and showing empathy. What better way to show empathy than to nurture the self-development of employees? What better way than to develop an organizational culture where management of companies serve as a parent or guru to employees? And like parents do with their children, nurture employees to progress and grow. One good way to achieve that is by facilitating employees to realize their full potential, and perhaps self-actualize, with the help of professionals from the Arts and the Humanities.

The soul is touched by music. A soul is known by its values. And the soul of an organization is influenced by the actions of its leadership.

To quote John C. Maxwell, “Leadership is not about titles, positions, or flow charts. It is about one life influencing another.”