Artist leaders are disruptors. They view the world as a blank canvas on which to paint their masterpiece.
Perhaps the greatest Artist leader in recent memory is the legendary Apple founder Steve Jobs. His iPod, iTunes, iPhone, and iPad creations were worldwide disruptive innovations when everything else was sticking to the status quo. When the iPod launched, there were other mp3 players on the market. They all sucked. He had a vision of a better way. And he knew how to get his vision to market.
That is the consummate Artist leader.
What is an Artist Leader?
The Artist Leader is:
We all have a creative spark, but what sets the Artist leader apart is that it’s the vital necessity, which can crowd out all other ambitions, considerations, reason, success, or sanity. Mozart admitted he wrote music “the way cows pissed.” It just happened. It was unstoppable. It was the motivating force driving his existence.
The status quo is anathema to the Artist Leader. They are an initiator, an innovator, and an instigator. Whether that applies to creating an app, designing new products, writing a tagline or running a company, Artist Leaders must put their creative stamp on it.
It is canvas to paint. Clay to sculpt.
Even if the canvas has already been sketched, the Artist will find an innovative way to paint over, to re-imagine the business model.
When we asked John Wu, the creative genius behind Trippy.com, our desert island question — “If a group of us are stranded on a desert island, what do you bring to the team?—his answer was so clearly framed like that of an Artist leader:
“The problem solving on an island would be about being creative and coming up with something other people aren’t thinking of. So, you see a stick and a rock, you see sand, you see water and you can come up with creative ideas. That’s my core skill,” says John.
He is so much a true artist that his first career was as a songwriter and indie recording artist.
Does My Company Need a Disruptor?
Disruptors seek the new path, the new way to do something, just as Netflix looked at cinema and envisioned another way to watch movies, Amazon looked at bookstores and found another way to sell books (and everything else), and LinkedIn looked at networking events and saw a way to expand our professional circles modelled on social media.
Companies in need of the fresh perspective of an outsider and the inherent creativity of a disruptor need an Artist Leader.
But, companies that turn to an Artist Leader need to understand their value or risk losing the benefits of working with such visionaries.
Jeff Leitner, who spent his career solving complex problems and bringing social innovation to organizations ranging from the US Department of State to the Dalai Lama Center for Peace and Education, sees the Artist leader as more empirical.
That means they learn from creating and watching how something behaves, as opposed to being analytical, working on methodology, and projecting whether or not it will work.
What are the Benefits of Hiring a Disruptor?
The Artist is the anti-leader. They can lead the troops so long as everyone understands they’ll lead by being the renegade, the perpetual outsider. They are out on the edge, curious, and pushing against norms and business as usual.
The Artist seeks change, not for change’s sake but because they see something better. And that’s where the difficulty begins, because most people resist change, even at the cost of their lives. Research on heart bypass patients shows that 90 percent will not change their lifestyle even when told they’ll die if they don’t.
Some Artist Leaders have the ability to work for “the man”—IBM, GM, Siemens, Oracle, city hall, the federal government, or any other bureaucracy. But it might just kill them, unless the organization is open to innovation.
Large organizations that truly nurture the Artist Leader within are rare, but they can dramatically outperform their stodgy peers.
PWC’s annual Global Innovation 1000 study ranks the top 1,000 public companies based on research and development spend. The findings? Standout innovation is not a function of who can throw the most cash at R&D. Since the first study in 2006, no relationship has ever been found between innovation spending and financial performance.
PWC reports, “What matters instead is the particular combination of talent, knowledge, team structures, tools, and processes—the capabilities—that successful companies put together to enable their innovation efforts, and thus create products and services they can successfully take to market.”
While the thousand companies collectively spent $782 billion on R&D in 2018, just 88 were deemed to be high-leverage innovators, meaning that despite spending less on R&D as a percentage of sales, these organizations outperformed their peers on key measures of financial success.
The best performers nurture Artist leaders within a culture that aligns innovation with overall business strategy.
Where Can I Find an Artist Leader?
If your organization needs an Artist leader to drive big initiatives from new product launch, to rebranding, imagining new ways to interact with your customers, or innovative technology, executive leaders expert in providing fresh outside thinking are in-demand. InterimExecs RED Team includes CEOs, CFOs, CIO, COOs and CMOs who specialize in bringing the fresh, outside perspective needed to push a company past stagnation. Learn more at www.InterimExecs.com.
Think you might be the Artist Leader your organization needs? Take our free leadership assessment to find out!