What is contemporary leadership?

Do you remember the last time you visited a Museum of Modern Arts? One of my last and most memorable visits was a Museum in Barcelona, Spain. I was simply overwhelmed by the creativity. I saw so many contemporary art items that were beyond my imagination, and it broadened my perspective in so many ways that I almost felt a small transformation of myself triggered by the visit.

I recently came across the term “contemporary leadership” which stroke my attention. Another management hype? A new fancy name for something that is as old as human nature? At least it touched my curiosity to deep-dive and learn more.

To get straight to the point: there is nothing revolutionary behind the concept. It basically means “modern leadership styles” and summarizes leadership concepts and behaviors to better cope with our digitalized VUCA world. No Holy Grail of Leadership. However, it conceptually describes the challenges that today’s leaders are confronted with and provides suggestions on how to respond in a constructive way.

When I hear “contemporary”, I immediately think about “contemporary arts”, and contemporary artists, like Salvador Dali, Roy Liechtenstein, or Andy Warhol. And, I think that there are a lot of commonalities between an artist and a leader:

  • Like painting, leadership starts with a first brush stroke on a white canvas, which very often can feel awkward. Imagine, you just have been appointed as a new leader: You now need to think about: What should be my first steps? You need to make your first decisions, where you do not know, where you would end, and if your decisions are the right ones.
  • You might have a picture in mind, a vision about where your team should be in the future. Which gives you direction, like a North Star. But most probably, the actual result will look differently to the picture you initially had in mind, and you need to accept this, and get used to it.
  •  Like arts, leadership is not a pure gift, but requires hard work, discipline and regular exercise: practicing, reflecting, improving, expanding your techniques until you find yourself in a position where you feel comfortable and confident.
  • Like in arts, you will never reach an end state, it will be a lifelong journey. Just like the number of visual motifs is endless, same is true for the number of challenging and unique leadership situations.
  • As our environment has become more dynamic, ambiguous and uncertain than ever before, creativity, dealing with emotions, and painting a picture that gives hope, motivates and inspires have become fundamental leadership skills.
  • And, what I personally find most motivating: While behaving like a contemporary leader, while listening, inspiring, caring, and supporting, you create something beautiful which is way beyond your own imagination.

So, what does this mean now, and how does it help leaders in today’s environment? If you are a leader, imagine yourself being an artist:

  1. Don’t be afraid of the first brush stroke, but just do it!
  2. Don’t stop too early, and don’t give up, but please do reflect occasionally, take a step back and check-in, there is always the possibility for corrections
  3. And of course, do not think too much, but also listen to your intuition, and your feelings

How does your painting look like today?

Thank you for reading and looking forward to your comments.

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