Do you ever feel the need to be more creative? When’s the last time you tried something new, like ceramics, drawing or painting? At the beginning of the year, I decided to make time for more creative and artistic endeavors, and painting was calling my name. I had no idea where it would lead, but I knew I needed to let go a little and do more with the more creative part of my brain.
So I signed up for a month-long, weekly watercolor class. As I was learning to paint, I started making connections between art, creativity and the way I approach a new situation or project. Issues around taking action, dealing with frustration, perfectionism and going with the flow all came up while I was painting . You can see some of my paintings and read more about the leadership lessons I learned here.
Six months later, I am running workshops that integrate leadership development and painting. Designed to help people use their creative potential to become stronger leaders, The Art of Stronger Leadership workshop is born!
The fact is I’ve been using art in my training for years. You can always find me in possession of a big bag of markers and giant sticky notes at a workshop. Draw your strengths or your vision; create a mind map; decorate a puzzle piece; draw your ideal day, etc., etc.
Drawing helps translate words into images and can create a more quiet, relaxed mind. You can lose track of time, get into what you're doing and let your mind wander. Combining words, images and the movement of drawing can result in new insights, increased creativity, more clarity and greater focus. Even doodling can help you process information more efficiently as you activate more parts of your brain.
Coloring is also enjoying a resurgence, with adult coloring books among Amazon's top sellers. And look what I saw in the entry of Barnes and Noble the other day. Coloring is a great stress reliever and leads to greater imagination, creativity and freer thinking.
You probably won’t be surprised that I came up with the idea for the Art of Stronger Leadership while painting and decided to take action and offer it to other leaders who want to get more creative.
On the day of the workshop, all the elements were in place. I was working in an art studio with two professional artists who were there to lend their technical and creative expertise to the painters. A diverse group of women registered to attend. I was ready with a great agenda, handouts and, of course, snacks.
As people arrived at the studio, their excitement was palpable. A few had recently gone to painting classes, so they were primed (get it??) to paint again. Another claimed she was “not creative” but looked forward to an opportunity to see what she could do with paint. Another hadn’t picked up a brush since elementary school.
Half of the women were entrepreneurs with their own businesses, and the other half held a leadership role in nonprofit or for profit organizations. They all had one thing in common: an interest in clarifying and strengthening their leadership style and vision through painting.
Reflect, Envision and Create
After introductions, snacks, and a brief presentation, the workshop had three phases:
- Reflect on what makes you a stronger leader
- Envision your future as the leader you want to be
- Create a painting that captures your positive view of the future
Reflect. Using a process inspired by Appreciative Inquiry, each person recounted a “peak” leadership experience. Think of a time when you were at your best as a leader. Recall the details and circumstances of what went well and how you did it. What strengths did you use? Who else was involved?
The exercise was an interview that proved to be a powerful experience for all. Learning from your past success is a positive foundation when you begin to visualize what you want in the future. Also, sharing your success with someone else can be uplifting for both interviewer and interviewee. One participant said,
“I loved the way we discovered our vision and story through the interview. It was great to tell someone my dreams and vision and also wonderful to hear about my partner’s peak experience as a leader.”
The interview concluded with a question about wishes for leadership in the future, especially in the context of the peak experience. Where do you want to see more of those success experiences in your leadership style? Maybe you want to be more collaborative or manage a larger team. Maybe you want to change your position altogether. Determine what you want, and turn it into a wish.
Envision. The interview about the peak leadership experience and three wishes set the stage for a guided visualization. Picture where you want to be as a leader in 5 or 10 years. What will your life look like when your future wishes and aspirations have come true?
This vision and the images related to it became the basis of the painting.
Create. The moment everyone was waiting for: painting a piece that represents your vision and wishes for yourself as a leader. After sketching some ideas, time to put paint to canvas.
Some jumped right in and started painting. Others needed more support, guidance and time to decide where to start. Especially for those who hadn't painted, they experienced varying levels of uncertainty (“Where do I start? What do I do next?"), frustration (“This does not look how I want it to.” "Can I have another canvas?") and ultimately acceptance and appreciation (“That really captures my feeling.” “I kinda like the shading of the green on that hill.” “That's not so bad.”).
Having artists work with them helped build confidence and learn some technical skills that helped them paint the images they imagined.
I was blown away by the beauty, depth and insights achieved in these painting.
One painter realized one of her goals as a leader was to incorporate more joy into her life and leadership style. Her painting reflected this.
Another realized that while she always strived to create abundance for her clients, she was less focused on creating abundance for herself.
Another realized she needed to focus more on the harmony of her team and how people's individual strengths could complement each other more effectively
Another painted a colorful landscape with birds representing the carefree members of her team.
I love the wonder and surprise you feel when you create something unexpected through art. The sense of accomplishment when you say, “I made that.” One of the more hesitant participants said, “The creative outlet is fantastic – I got soooo out of my zone.”
That's what it's all about.
Are you ready to get out of your comfort zone, get creative and see where it leads you? You might surprise yourself! Share your experience in the comments. You can also post a picture of your recent artistic endeavors at www.facebook.com/optimaldevelopmentcoaching. How do art, creativity and imagination make you a stronger leader?
If you're in the area and would like to explore your strengths, goals and leadership vision through art, join us for the Art of Stronger Leadership.
Our next workshop is scheduled! Click on the dates below for more information.
Do you feel like you spend too much time in your head? Wish you had a creative outlet? As a leader you can get tethered to the office, your computer, the phone or the conference room and may neglect your more creative side. Over the past couple of years, I’ve been trying to bring more of my fun, imaginative side to my work. Many years of technical writing and presenting in academia developed habits that are hard to break. Now, as a trainer and coach, I want to bring more play to what I do for me and my clients.
And if what I see on social media is any indication, a lot of people are getting excited about flexing their creative muscles. Painting studios are popping up everywhere, as are craft nights, photography tours and workshops, dance classes and all kinds of opportunities to find the right fit to make time to get your creative juices flowing.
I’ve taken a writing and acting class (www.kimmaxwellstudio.com) that was fantastic (more about that continuing collaboration in another post about the Finding Your Voice) with free writes and acting exercises that really pushed me beyond my comfort zone while marveling at the talents of the others in the class.
I also took a watercolor painting class and LOVED it – I was even happy with my first piece of art: a watercolor painting of a rose.
I starting taking more lessons this year and have learned so much about painting, color and composition but also about myself, my style and how the creative process can inform my work as a trainer and a leader. Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned about leadership from painting:
1. Get the right tools. Before I started, my painting teacher sent me a supply list of the types and sizes of brushes, colors and brands of paint and even type of paper I should invest in to get the most out of class. I went to a local craft's store, but they didn’t have a lot of what I was looking for. I picked up a few things, some better than others, and figured, “How bad can they be?”
Well, I answered that question quickly when one brush started shedding bristles almost immediately. The inferior paper didn’t take the pigment the way the good one did, and some of the paints weren’t as vibrant as others.
As a leader, you have to have the right tools too. That might be a computer program, a new piece of equipment or a new hire who’s the right person for the job. Never underestimate the importance of investing in the best tools to get the job done.
2. Get a mentor. With any new endeavor, it helps to have a guide who has more experience than you do. Mary-Gail King has been my instructor, teacher and mentor in all things painting. She shares the technical skills I need to learn but even more importantly helps me find my own style and strengths as a painter. She also shows me how to make my vision a reality and pushes me out of my comfort zone.
As a leader, you are a coach and mentor to your team. Helping to support them and their strengths is a key aspect of that role. But you also need your own support system- a mentor, a coach or a master mind group to give you that support and perspective to help you do your best. There's nothing like some objective feedback from like-minded people.
3. Be patient. Watercolors can be tricky. If you paint next to a part of the piece that’s still wet, paint can run into the next area. Sometimes this effect can be awesome; other times, it can feel like a disaster.
It’s so hard to wait-like watching water come to a boil or watching paint dry (Actually, it IS watching paint dry).
As a leader, you also need to be patient. Working on projects, learning new skills, reaching a goal, developing an employee, can take time. Patience is a virtue that may require some practice.
4. Get some distance. Every painting can benefit from stepping away to gain more perspective. You can get a whole new view of a painting, bringing to light where it needs some more detail, color, texture or shading.
As a leader, you can always benefit from a little distance. Maybe you need to literally step back from a situation and let others work it out. Maybe you need a break. Or maybe just a fresh set of eyes and objective ear to process what your next steps will be.
5. Take action. Sometimes you just need to start. When I sit down to paint, I don’t always feel ready. I chat and look at colors and play around before putting paint to paper. Often it’s better if I get something going.
In a recent class, I was hemming and hawing and realized I needed to be “a woman of action.” It was a perfect metaphor for a number of other things going on that I was pussyfooting around about and not getting accomplished. That conclusion released my productivity in so many other areas. I’m a woman of action. Woohoo!!
Every leader needs to be decisive, and some situations require fast action. Developing the confidence to make a quick yet thoughtful decision takes some practice, experience and the ability to listen to your gut. Painting has definitely helped me do that.
6. It’s ok to make mistakes. We all make mistakes, especially when trying something new. As a novice painter, I make plenty of them. I’m still not exactly sure about the color wheel and types of paints, so my work can go in an unintended direction. What to do?
- Sometimes you can fix it. A little blot of a paper towel or wet brush can help.
- Sometimes you just need to start over. My first still life included a bunch of beets that started to look obscene. When I showed it to my teenage daughter, we both laughed so hard we literally ended up on the floor crying. I had to take the loss and move on.
- Sometimes you just need to accept a mistake and keep going. In a burst of excitement, I splashed some water on my favorite painting, leaving a mark in the sweet spot of the sunset. Oh well. Trying to fix it could result in worse, so I decided to leave it as a feature of the piece and put the brush down.
As a leader, it can be hard to walk away, to recognize when a situation is worth salvaging or needs to be let go. No matter what the solution, it’s always important to own your mistakes, learn from them, and move on.
7. Set aside time for growth. We don’t always make the time we need to flex our creative muscles, but it’s so good to give another part of your brain a chance to get a workout. Just like setting time aside to exercise, review financials or do performance reviews, it's important to set aside time to be creative.
I’ve committed to myself a few hours a week of a painting class, writing class or some other artistic endeavor to keep those juices flowing.
Here’s my favorite piece so far. I’m really proud of the work and feel like it does make me a stronger leader by being more attuned to the moment and more responsive to others. Plus the image just makes me feel good.
Do you want to get in touch with your creative side? Would you like to see how getting out of your head can make you a stronger leader?
I’m collaborating with two artists - my painting teacher, Mary-Gail, and Connie Schuh, owner of a local painting studio www.paintblankcanvas.com - to offer a new workshop: The Art of Stronger Leadership: Paint Your Vision.
This 3-hour course (June 4th, 6-9pm) will help you get in touch with your strengths as a leader through stories and art. We’ll use your leadership successes and dreams as a catalyst to inspire and fuel your creativity. You’ll come out with more confidence, a piece of original artwork and some of your own lessons about the art of stronger leadership.
Space is limited to 20, so check out the registration information here.
How has art inspired your work and your capacity as a leader? Please share your thoughts (or art!) below.