Forbes estimates that we spend $166 billion annually on leadership development in the USA alone. Despite this significant expense for countless thought leaders, books, and training courses, we continue to search for the perfect leadership formula. The problem is there isn’t a perfect formula. We all bring unique talents and backgrounds to our organizations, and simply emulating someone else’s leadership style won’t lead to personal or professional growth. Not only that, but there are external forces that require us to consistently adjust how we react to different situations. Robert Greenleaf notes that, “As a practical matter, on most important decisions there is an information gap.”
In his essay “The Servant as Leader,” Greenleaf goes on to write, “Leaders, therefore, must be more creative than most; and creativity is largely discovery, a push into the uncharted and the unknown. Every once in a while a leader needs to think like a scientist, an artist, or a poet. And a leader’s thought processes may be just as fanciful as theirs – and as fallible.”
My father is a retired Lieutenant Colonel in the military and my mom is an artist. Although I tend to be like my dad, very analytical in my thinking with a preference for concrete answers rather than abstract solutions, I have come to appreciate the following lessons from my mother, the artist.
- Create your own style: My mom was classically trained in college and can paint gorgeous oil paintings or vibrant watercolors, but over the years she created her own style using markers, colored pencils, and a wide range or techniques. In addition, she specialized in creating portraits of individuals and families that include little details of significant achievements or memories from their lives. These portraits continue to be hung with pride in homes and offices all over.
- Take the time to really get to know the individual: Creating portraits that would include the smallest details behind a person’s personality required my mom to spend time interviewing the subject and those closest to them. Before she even started sketching, she would spend hours researching to understand how to best portray the individual.
- Work has a purpose, remember your why: There are seven children in my family, and my mom used 100% of the money she earned for our birthdays, holidays, or activities. Aside from creating works of art for other to enjoy, she found great joy in being able to provide something special to her family through her hard work.
- Teach the next generation: My mother has spent years passing on her knowledge and love for art to others. She taught “Art Masterpiece” classes at my elementary school, giving us a chance to learn about different artists and the history of art. She taught drawing and painting classes in our home and in classrooms to numerous students, many of whom went on to create amazing works. The most amazing thing is that she encouraged each student to enjoy creating art, no matter their talent level or interests.
There are so many uniquely talented and gifted leaders in the credit union movement. Just as I don’t lead the same way my former CEO did, it’s encouraging to see so many credit union leaders using creative solutions to achieve similar goals. I am glad we all tend to approach challenges differently.
We may not notice all the little things that are done every day by so many people, but just like a Monet painting, if we take a few steps back we can see the masterpiece we are creating. As we seek to be more innovative in the ways we serve our members, develop our teams, and build our communities, I hope we could learn to be a little less formulaic and a little more artistic in our leadership.