Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The Fine Art of Leadership

Bottles of paint and paint brushes in a box covered with paint
(Photo credit: Photodisc/ThinkStock)
Quite a few of my friends have been attending canvas painting parties. At these parties, guests are invited to bring in their own food and beverage while the host provides the painting supplies and skill (if you need it) to create a take-home masterpiece. I found the concept to hold many lessons on leadership.

Lesson #1: Relationships and Fun Matters
Most of the people who attend painting parties, attend with someone they know. Although I haven't attended a party myself, I can only imagine that when there is food, beverages of choice, and people in one space, fun happens. Even if you didn't know other guests at the beginning of the experience, I venture to say you probably do by the end.

Leadership is about relationships. One cannot lead unless others follow; and without a good relationship, a leader's ability to influence is compromised. Humans are "hard-wired" for connection. Leaders who know their team and connect with their team and those around them are more apt to succeed than those who distance themselves from others.

Couple holding paintings of mountains with path and trees
(Photo credit: Kathy and Chris Abend)
Lesson #2: Leadership is an art.
Google defines "art" as the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination. Each painting created at a painting party is an expression of the artist.

Leadership as an art can be a difficult sell for some people. In the context of wildland fire leadership, the art is a combination of theory and application. Just as with painting, the art of leadership is an expression of the leader and is honed through practice and persistence. The true art becomes creating the best solution for the problem at hand. Using a more adaptive style of leadership gives leaders more flexibility when responding to challenges and offering praise.

Lesson #3: Born versus made.
Similar to Lesson #2, some individuals are born with the art; others are made. Whether an artist or a leader, some are gifted with the art. This does not, however, mean that one cannot become better at the art even if they are gifted. Leadership is something that must be studied and refined. Leaders are continuous learners.

Lesson #4: You don't have to have all the tools.
Before guests show up at a painting party, hosts ensure guests have the proper tools to complete their painting. Provided for each guest are paint, paintbrushes, palette, and canvas. 

Emerging leaders should take heed of Lesson #4. Just because a person accepts the leadership challenge does not mean they are fully equipped with everything they need. Knowing who to go to or where to find a tool if you don't have one in your toolbox is a great leadership skill to have. 

Lesson #5: Surround yourself with good people.
Whether or not you can paint matters very little when attending a painting party. In fact, some hosts actually provide pre-sketched canvases similar to paint-by-numbers for guests to follow. Additionally, an artist is available to coach guests through the painting process and provide help and encouragement as needed.

Effective leaders surround themselves with mentors, coaches, peers, and followers who can provide valuable feedback. 

Lesson #6: No two people see or interpret things the same or have the same style.
Study the world of art and you learn art is classified by era (e.g., Renaissance, Impressionism, Romanticism, Abstract, and Realism). Go to a painting party and you will probably see each era depicted--maybe in the same painting. No two pictures are the same. Creativity and self-expression are encouraged and embraced and what artists create is a result of things they have seen and experienced.

Leadership is often categorized into styles. Responding to situations with one-style-fits-all leadership will likely limit leadership effectiveness. Leaders who respond to situations from a variety of styles may find their job easier and more fulfilling.
(Photo credit: Casey O'Connell)
Lesson #7: Things can get messy.
Every party goer is provided an apron in case things get messy. The job of a leader can get messy. Being prepared for such an event makes cleanup easier.

Additionally, aprons can be removed so the artist can step away from their work. There are times when a leader needs to step back, take off their apron, and come back at a later time to finish.

Lesson 8: Confidence is key.
Signing up to attend a painting party takes one level of confidence. Actually showing up to the party and putting paint to canvas is another. As one of my friends mentioned, the venue must be a "judgement-free zone," including self-judgement. As an art, the existence of "right" or "wrong" should be eliminated.

Confidence speaks volumes for a leader's command presence. Being able to critique one's self and stand up to the critique of others is a skill all leaders must have. The ability to learn from mistakes and return to "fight another day" is important.

Lesson #9: The finished product.
A great thing about painting parties is walking away with a finished product at the end of the evening. What begins as a blank canvas becomes a beautiful work of art signed by the artist. Once completed, the guest decides whether or not the work of art will be displayed or kept hidden away.

An individual may tend courses on leadership, but accepting the challenge to be a leader is a personal choice.

What lessons can you add to our list of lessons?

Wildland Fire Leadership Challenge - Digging a Little Deeper
  • Read "The Art of Leadership" in Leading in the Wildland Fire Service.
  • How are you developing your leadership art?
  • Identify those individuals you can turn to who have leadership tools you do not.

About the Author: Pam McDonald is a writer/editor for BLM Wildland Fire Training and Workforce Development and member of the NWCG Leadership Subcommittee. The expressions are those of the author.

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