You Say Capt. Kirk Was Unqualified? That’s What Made Him A Leader.

In December Seth Godin made two posts titled Creativity Is An Act of Leadership. The second of the two added (Redux).

I am a little leery of the trend in articles which label leaders as doing constructive things and managers being dedicated to the status quo. It smacks of the No True Scotsman fallacy.

Not to mention, there are so many articles with these lists, you would be hard pressed to keep track of what you are supposed to be doing lest to backslide into managerial morass. I prefer to think of the qualities attributed to leaders as things one should aspire to so you don’t get caught in a destructive cycle of self-recrimination if you occasionally want to spend time not reinventing the wheel.

That said, these are some of the things in Godin’s posts I liked. It resonates with work environments at artist organizations, especially as many move toward a more shared governance dynamic. Though there are still plenty of places with structured tiers of authority.

Leadership is voluntary. It’s voluntary to lead and it’s voluntary to follow.

When you have power and authority, it’s tempting to manage instead. Managers get what they got yesterday, but faster and cheaper. Managers use authority to enforce behavior.

But leadership involves acting as if. Leaders paint a picture of the future and encourage us to go there with them.

Which is what anyone who makes change through creative work is doing.

[…]

For too long, we’ve been confused about the true nature of leadership. It’s not about authority at all. It’s the brave work of inventing the future.

The second post is similar, but it focuses more on the theme of how leadership is like creativity in that you are constantly pushing into uncharted territory. The idea of leaders being those who stretch beyond their qualifications is intriguing. At the same time, the sentiment has long been enshrined in the opening narration of Star Trek episodes about going where no one has gone before.

If you feel like an impostor, it might be because you’re comparing yourself to a manager. We want managers and craftspeople to know precisely the steps that are involved in their work, and we want them to do it flawlessly.

Leaders, on the other hand, can never be qualified, because they’ve never done this before.

And creators — creators that don’t have a fancy job or aren’t given the label of “leader” — the same thing is true for them.

You don’t need a permit or a badge or a title to be a creative. You simply need to care enough to do creative work.

[…]

The next time you’re stuck being creative, perhaps it pays to substitute the word ‘leader’. And yes, the next time you’re stuck being a leader, perhaps it makes sense to use the word ‘creator’ instead.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

I am currently the Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.

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2 thoughts on “You Say Capt. Kirk Was Unqualified? That’s What Made Him A Leader.”

  1. Hi Joe!
    I really appreciate your criticism of Seth Godin’s post. Managers are leaders. They take the example or restrictions given by the “uppers” and creatively problem solve to make the overall picture of whatever specific longterm goal come true.
    In the first excerpt by Godin published on this post, he says that “Leadership is voluntary.” What a beautiful sentiment toward the heart of a true leader. A leader is one who moves with passion toward a goal and influences others along the way. A leader recruits peers in a way that excites and drives them into the same passion for the longterm goal. Thank you for your post.

    Reply

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