Art: The Unexpected Tool to Develop Your Leadership Skills


As a leader, how do you bring the arts into your work?

This may seem like a trick question because visual arts and leadership are rarely, if ever, linked together, however there is a valuable relationship here worth exploring. Don’t believe us? Just ask our friends and partners at Late Nite Art

Late Nite Art empowers leaders to see that you don’t have to be a professional artist to use the arts in your work. Furthermore, art can elevate your leadership and facilitation skills. 

Strategic leaders have had to adapt and think outside-the-box when faced with the immense challenges, uncertainty, and change that’s occurred during the last few years. They’ve had to harness different tools during this transition, and add innovative approaches to their leadership toolbox. 

Art can serve as a powerful tool for leaders to leverage team engagement, trust, morale, and creative problem solving amidst a sea of “death by powerpoint” presentations or boring fireside chats. 

Art can empower people to think creatively and open up possibilities they might have otherwise closed off.

Research shows that the arts:

Strengthen empathy and wellbeing

Build creative confidence and curiosity

Promote health and emotional intelligence

Elicit joy and connection

Provide an out of the box experience

So when the Late Nite Art team was brought in to provide a creative leadership development experience for 35 top female leaders from a private equity firm (some of whom are managing 100,000 employees), most of them were shocked by what they saw awaiting them on the table…

Art supplies! Plenty of watercolors, colored pencils, and wax crayons invited this crowd to create at each seat of the table. Not to mention, there was energizing music blasting through the speakers as they walked in. It sent a clear message to the group: this is not your typical leadership event.

There was a collective feeling of trepidation as these leaders walked into the space. Almost instantly comments were shared such as, “I’m not artistic so I should sit in the back” or “Uh oh. I’m not good at drawing.” However, in just 1.5 hours, they quickly changed their tune. 

By the end of the learning experience, these leaders had covered the entire table with doodles, drawings, and personal questions; tapping into their own creative confidence, risk-taking, and deeper connection as a team. The visual arts helped to break routine ways of thinking and the leaders eventually saw art as a tool to support their team building process, versus as an outcome or item to produce. 

They not only got creative, but also embraced vulnerability. The group collectively let their hair down and felt safe to share a personal challenge they were facing as a leader.

Some of their questions they were wrestling with included: 

⚡ How do I get over that not everyone is going to like me and I will have to do hard things?

⚡ How do I balance being there for the company and giving time to my family?

⚡ How do I bring 2 opposite team members to collaborate together as I both cherish and value them individually and need them to work together?

It was inspiring to see this high-powered, executive group of female leaders support one another through these challenges that are too often not spoken about. Integrating the arts helped open up the space for such conversations, and many said at the end that this was a good reminder to share more deeply more often with their colleagues and teams.

You, too, can break out of the typical leadership mold and integrate the arts in your next virtual or in-person meeting. Here’s how:

1. Set the stage to allow for creative risk taking.

Both Scaling Intimacy and Late Nite Art begin every event with guidelines in order to support each person to fully embrace the process. Sharing guidelines up front, such as the following ones, can meet people where they are and set positive intentions:

Full focus. Drop in fully and eliminate any other distractions.

Be real. You’re welcome to be honest and authentic about where you are in the process.

Release your inner critic. Criticism is the quickest way to shut down creativity (yours or someone else’s) so stay curious and release your judgment. 

2. Utilize varied modalities.

There are many different forms and multidisciplinary approaches for people to use the arts to access more of themselves. Late Nite Art´s special sauce centers upon the 4 distinct modalities present in all their workshops, which you can leverage to bring more creativity and connection in to your sessions:

Music: You can use music to set the tone and create a mood, like playing higher energy music when participants enter the space, and playing more soft and relaxing music during small group work discussions. 

⚡ Visual arts: The adage that a picture is worth 1000 words is unbelievably true. The next time you design a simple breakout room or small group discussion, first have participants individually represent their feelings and thoughts about the prompt as a drawing, and then have each person share their art to drive the discussion further in the smaller groups.. 

⚡ Movement: The most simple form of movement in an in-person workshop might be to regularly change seats. Research actually shows it can boost creativity and productivity! However you can take it up a notch with group stretching, mindful movement and meditation, group dancing, and kinesthetic activities – all possible even in the virtual space!

⚡ Storytelling: There are many ways to integrate storytelling into your next leadership event. Check out this Scaling Intimacy blog on the topic to dive in more!

3. Tip your hat to resistance.

Not everyone will initially be enthusiastic to dive into the arts. And that’s OK! Instead of ignoring the discomfort or pretending it doesn’t exist, acknowledge it. When you embrace the resistance in the room directly, people will more likely let go of it. You can preface creatively risky exercises with, “I know this may feel wild/different/uncomfortable, but stay with me here.” Sometimes just hearing a wider range of accepted emotions and that they are not the only ones feeling discomfort can help people feel seen and heard in the process.

It can also be important to say that in this instance we are using art as a tool for creativity and connection, and that it’s not about the art. This is about the journey, not the destination. You don’t have to be “good” at art or feel like an artist for the arts to be a powerful vehicle for expression. It is precisely the vulnerability of expressing yourself through art that can bring a group closer together. 

Do you want to dive in even more into the powerful connections between art and leadership?

Then be sure to join our upcoming Virtual Connection Lab on the topic of Leadership on October 19 at 11am PST | 2pm EST with Adam Rosendahl, Senior Facilitator, experience designer, and the Founder of LATE NITE ART®.

In this interactive session, you will learn and experience 2 new exercises on the leadership that can level up your leadership capacity and become a more empathetic leader.

Use coupon code “LEADERSHIPBLOG” to register for FREE if it’s your first time joining us.

Sign up here!