The Arc Between Leadership and Art

Wanna be a better leader? Go to a museum. Study a painting or two. Yes, really.

If you’re a medical student at the University of Miami, you will spend some of your school time looking at art.

You will be exposed to Visual Thinking Strategies. VTS for short. With the help of a trained VTS facilitator, a class of physicians-in-training looks at 5 paintings. Each painting features people.

Simple idea. As we study a painting, we examine the nuances that are depicted. We decode ambiguity. We infer certain information based on what we see. We take an inquisitive look at the unspoken.

Starting to sound like leadership skills?

When one of my clients does a DISC assessment with a leadership team and charts the group’s intrinsic Workplace Motivators, Aesthetic Motivation consistently scores at the bottom. Aesthetic Motivation, in DISC lingo, isn’t art appreciation. It’s defined as a passion to add balance and harmony in one’s own life and protect our natural resources.

Not art, no – but it sure describes the ability to appreciate nuance, subtlety, ambiguity. The not so obvious human stuff.

Consider these 3 simple VTS questions. They are the questions a VTS facilitator will ask as you look at a painting:

  1. What’s going on in this picture?

  2. What do you see that makes you say that?

  3. What more can we find?

Great art questions. Great leadership questions. Great life questions.

Every day, physicians engage with patients that have a lot going on. Much of what’s going on will never be explicitly stated. Decoding human behavior is a core skill for absolutely any physician.

For anyone.

These are the blistering days of summer. Searing heat. A museum is a soothingly air-conditioned place. Take yourself. Take your children. Take a work team, just for an hour or so. Go armed with your 3 VTS questions.

You will be in a comfortable place. You will, no doubt, be stirred by some of the art you see. You will sharpen your perceptive and penetrating leadership faculties. Decode a situation. Spot the subtle cue. Tolerate ambiguity.

Then apply your 3 questions to any situation you wish to better understand.

Pretty darn good for an hour in a museum, don’t you think?