The creative business of leadership


The Creative Business of Leadership

Across the media, we keep seeing calls for a different approach to leadership. This seems to revolve around three particular areas: creativity as a source of innovation; collaboration, distributed and inclusive leadership; personal authenticity and collective responsibility. Taken together they are mission critical, underpinning productivity in unpredictable situations all over the world, and a basic principle of responsible business: “doing well in order to do good”.

In the performing arts, we work with these qualities and principles daily – our bread and butter. We also know that they are completely interdependent, enabling jazz musicians to launch effortlessly into performing together without even previously having met, or the members of a string quartet to coordinate seamlessly to begin a piece without even looking at each other. They are immediately alive for actors in rehearsal as they experiment and play around with a text or narrative over and again, giving one another permission to fail and try again. Actors trust a messy process, knowing that out of it great performance will emerge.

Businesses are crying out for these qualities. And indeed there’s a growing interest in what can be learned from musicians, actors, directors, dancers, choreographers, and artists in general about how they work together. Much of the work currently focuses on particular skills: communication through body, voice and personal presence, or for example on unpacking the decision-making process of a director working with an ensemble.

These are the kinds of questions we explore, for example in “The Art of Development”, a new learning and development programme offered by the Guildhall School in collaboration with the Barbican Centre.

But we’re only just beginning to scratch the surface of what can and needs to be explored. Too often learning from the arts is about isolated skills or picking up a few “tricks of the trade”.  We now need to dive deep and get to grips with a bigger picture and the ways in which different dimensions in artistic processes integrate.

There is another issue to put on the table too. The performing arts have a certain mystique, and, as artists, many of us quite like to retain this mystique, to set ourselves apart from others, not engaging outside our own process. But the world has changed for us too, and the arts are under ever-growing pressure to integrate sustainable business thinking with artistic priorities in order to flourish.

There is every reason then to bring arts and business into dialogue and deeper exchange. It’s time to move beyond one-way traffic: old models of artists providing services in the form of bite-sized training packages on communication skills, or corporates providing business mentoring for artists. These have their value, but there is a more compelling agenda to pursue. It’s time to collaborate across arts and business to share leadership in how we develop creativity, collaboration, personal authenticity and collective responsibility as fundamental parts of sustainable business. Let’s move beyond one-way traffic, cautious information hoarding and mutual suspicion.

This is a moment to identify and pursue shared questions and interests. Only by doing this will we empower leaders and managers with the skills and mindset they really need in our contemporary worlds, and perhaps also demystify the imperatives of a bottom line for artists. If we can achieve it, I believe we will have found a form of creative entrepreneurship that both leads to a new paradigm in management and reignites confidence in artists and their ability to make a difference right at the heart of society.

By Professor Helena Gaunt, Vice-Principal, Guildhall School of Music & Drama