Why Caring Leaders Are Artists in Disguise

When it came to writing my upcoming book, I kept circling back to one phrase in particular: “caring leadership is more art than science.” Why art? When we think of art, we think of creativity, innovation, risk-taking, and resourcefulness. Art challenges, motivates, and excites us, and even pushes us out of our comfort zones at times. I would argue many—if not, all—of those qualities apply to caring leadership, as well.

But how else do leaders embody the artist spirit, and why is that mindset even useful to us?

In perhaps a roundabout way, reconceptualizing leaders as artists can help us lead in more generative and transformative ways. By expanding our definition of leadership beyond a results-oriented framework, we can empower our teams in a more personal and imaginative manner. Below I outline a few parallels between leaders and artists, and why it may be worthwhile to keep them in mind.

  • Leadership and art are deeply personal and subjective practices. The beautiful thing about art is that there’s no one right way to do it; it’s completely individual. In that same vein, caring leadership is not a cookie-cutter approach, simply because not everyone exhibits care in the same way. Just as we might think of Monet or Picasso as artists with different styles, each leader finds personal inspiration to lead in their own unique way. I myself gained many of my key leadership skills, such as empathy, growing up as the product of an interracial and interfaith marriage. Whatever your sources of inspiration, the real art form is exhibiting your own special pastiche of them all.
  • Leaders and artists alike must use a diversity of tools and strategies to get the job done. If you’ve ever seen an artist’s studio, you know how varied and abundant their materials are. Sometimes they need this type of pencil versus that type of brush, or this hue of paint versus that shade of charcoal. Likewise, the effective leader leverages different strategies for different problems. You might employ conflict resolution skills one day, project management strategies the next, or active listening another day, or perhaps all three simultaneously. As a caring leader, it’s your job to become comfortable harnessing your own capacities.
  • Both leadership and art is a daily, perpetual journey—not a destination. Leonardo Da Vinci is often quoted as saying, “art is never finished, only abandoned.” Being a caring leader requires consistent practice and growth. Just as artists sketch or write on a regular basis, the more you practice caring leadership, the easier it will get. Some argue effective leadership is proven with increased profits, but I argue that a leader’s responsibilities extend beyond the realm of quantifiable metrics. Caring leaders are tasked with inspiring others to bring out the best in themselves. Sure, you can get a sense of this through engagement surveys and performance reviews, but if a leader makes a truly profound impact, it’s near impossible to measure. Remember: a masterpiece isn’t determined by its price tag.

In closing, I’d remind you that art is for anyone & everyone, and the same goes for leadership. If you value technique and skill as much as heart and integrity, you’ll find there’s plenty of room for your own style of leadership wherever you choose to let it flourish. Thinking of your leadership style as an art form hopefully mitigates the fear of stepping up in your own right. I believe a single stroke can change our lives forever; you need only find the courage to pick up a brush.

How Holistic Leadership Shows You Care

In my upcoming book, The Art of Caring Leadership, I speak to the importance of leading the whole person, and not just the face value of the employee that shows up to work every day. Often I witness managers “handle” employees through a narrow lens of their performance inside the workplace without ever considering them as whole people and their lives outside of work. But to truly elevate our leadership game, we must take into account the mind, body, spirit and emotions of those we lead.

This approach of leading the entirety of your employees is often referred to as “holistic leadership.” Why exactly is it so critical for employee engagement and organizational advancement?

In a nutshell, leadership that only addresses workplace concerns doesn’t accurately reflect the reality of how employees actually function. It’s simply unrealistic to think we check our personal worries, excitements, and challenges at the door when we enter the office. What happens outside of work impacts our energy levels, sense of control, and ability to feel engaged and productive. As a leader, asking your employees to constantly separate parts of themselves establishes an emotionally repressed environment, a lack of confidence, and true disconnection. No team or organization can weather that.

The caring leader knows that maximizing their relationships with those they lead means purposefully integrating their employees’ lives in total—including what’s happening in their personal lives. That can look like many things: regular check-ins before meetings begin in earnest, sending birthday cards/memos, respectfully asking about family matters, or providing emotional support and project flexibility in times of personal crisis. However you choose to demonstrate empathy and compassion, the most important aspect is to visibly show you are comfortable meeting your team members in the fullness of their identities and experiences.

As with all management strategies, however, there’s a careful balance to strike. In my personal crusade to empathize with others as best as I can, there have been times when I became too close to someone else’s pain and overly zealous in trying to alleviate it. As you try to lead the whole of someone else, don’t lose sight of your own wholeness along the way. Holistic leadership requires not only a broad awareness of others, but a deep awareness of yourself and your emotional boundaries.

Cultivating that balance will take time, but I genuinely believe the payoff is worth the effort. Leading the whole person cleanses the guilt of authenticity, and creates a foundation of trust you can leverage in future collaborations. Especially as the emergence of remote work has blurred the boundaries between professional and personal spheres, holistic leadership is needed now more than ever to integrate all parts of ourselves in a safe and inclusive manner. If we can honor that truth in our employees, they will honor it in us in return.

133: Leaders with Heart Provide Hope and Possibility for Those They Lead

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In this episode, Heather joins the show without a guest to talk about the status of her next book, The Art of Caring Leadership, which is based upon this podcast. She also tells her perspective on the death of Chadwick Boseman, a former Marvel star and king of Wakanda, the fictitious country in the Black Panther movie.

Key takeaways:

  • All employees are looking for hope, and they need leaders to help them discover it.
  • There is power in seeing someone who looks like you in the highest positions of leadership.
  • Be flexible in your recruitment and promotion practices to be more inclusive, and to provide the symbols of hope.

Updates on the Book

I did finish writing the Art of Caring Leadership: How Leading with Heart Uplifts Teams and Organizations. 

They’ve sent out my book to three reviewers, which could be very scary. It was really nerve-wrecking. But once I got the first one, I felt that it’s not going to be too bad. They gave some really good feedback that made the book richer, more synced, and easier to read. I hope that you will be proud of how I was able to encapsulate some of the most important voices that you’ve heard here. I am super excited about that.

We have to learn to celebrate our little successes, our big successes—all the same. – @HeatherRYounger #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Lessons from Chadwick

Just recently, Chadwick Boseman passed away at 43 years old. He died of cancer. If you’d recall, he played the king of Wakanda for Black Panther. He was the first black superhero.  When I saw the news, I felt like I was punched in the chest and the air left out of me.

I didn’t quite think about why until I reflected on some work I’ve been doing on diversity, equity, and inclusion. Looking through survey feedback, we would just keep seeing over and over again their desire to see more people of color in executive leadership roles.

I realized that the reason why people are having such as response about Chadwick’s death is because we saw him as a hero. He was a beacon of light for people who has overcame much and at the same time has represented us.

He got some assistance and good mentorship from other people, and he made it where he was. He did it with grace, even when he was battling with cancer for the last few years.

Inside of organizations, those who are different or considered a minority often don’t feel like they belong. They don’t always feel like they’re part of a purpose that’s bigger than themselves.

When they are able to see people in the highest parts of the organization, they see that there’s so much possibility to become those persons in the role. It’s the possibilities that keeps them having hope and makes them want to stay because they want to see how far they can go as well.

We actually have the ability to achieve. We can do more than what we think we can. – @HeatherRYounger #leadershipwithheart Click To TweetThere are very few limits in front of us. We can place our own limits in front of ourselves with our own mindset. – @HeatherRYounger #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Celebrating Self-care

We have to learn to celebrate our little and big successes all the same, or else, our life becomes one big blur of tasks. It’s interesting because in the book, I talked a lot about self-care and self -compassion. We need to make sure that we’re doing that more often. I did that for myself during and at the end of this process to celebrate.

If you are someone who leads organization where you have the ability to think outside the box regarding recruitment and your promotion practices, and to diversify the top ranks in your organization, do it.

We’re making sure that people of color and those who are different than the mainstream are going to be at the top roots, because you want to give everybody hope, a desire, a bigger purpose, and to know that they can do and be more.

It's the possibilities that keep your people hope and make them want to stay because they want to see how far they can go as well. – @HeatherRYounger #leadershipwithheart Click To TweetIf you have the power, use the power. Let's not just talk, but let's actually walk on this journey together. – @HeatherRYounger #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

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126: The Beginnings of the Art of Caring Leadership

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In this episode, Heather shares with listeners her very special Author’s Day presentation with her publisher and guests. In it, she goes over her personal background, her “why” for writing, and the main focuses of the book. Her editor also talks about what makes this book so different.

If you are a fan of the guests from this show, this episode is surely a treat!

A Very Special Day

I decided to share with you my Author’s Day presentation with my publisher for my second book, “The Art of Caring Leadership.” The majority of the book is founded on the interviews from this podcast. You will get to hear me present the book in an interview format.  You will also get to hear my editor offer his own views, as well as give comments and ask questions coming from the guests. 

This is a very heartwarming special day and I want to share it with you.

We ourselves are also hopefully striving to be caring leaders. – @HeatherRYounger #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

A Very Special Book

Caring leadership is not some nebula, or a squishy thing. It is real.

Each of us knows it when we feel it, and when we experience it from those who lead us—whether it is our parents, aunts, uncles, leaders of the community, or those inside the workplace.

We ourselves are also striving to be caring leaders. In this book, I am going to put some real guard rails. I will be writing real fundamental principles down on what it means to care. 

This way, people can put their hands around something and it just won’t fall between their fingers. I hope you enjoy my Author’s Day.

Caring leadership is real. – @HeatherRYounger #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

A Very Special Request

I’d love to hear from you via email or comment on social media. Please do me a favor, and don’t forget to write a five-star review on Spotify, Apple podcast or wherever you listen.

This means a lot. The more people would get to hear the content and the brilliance of the leaders that I have on here, the better the world is going to be. I truly believe that.

Thank you for joining and listening consistently. Thank you for your loyalty. I hope you sincerely enjoy this episode. Be well. You may find my presentation as unlisted in YouTube.


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