Lead Like An Artist

Lance Creativity, Excellence, Leadership Leave a Comment

In his wonderful little book about art and creativity, Austin Kleon offers up a deeply wise bit of advice that has value far beyond his intended audience of would-be artists. In Steal Like An Artist, Kleon writes:

Harold Ramis, the actor and director most famous to people of my generation for his role as Egon in the movie Ghostbusters, once laid out his rule for success: “Find the most talented person in the room, and if it’s not you, go stand next to him. Hang out with him. Try to be helpful.” Ramis was lucky: The most talented person in the room was his friend Bill Murray.

If you ever find that you’re the most talented person in the room, you need to find another room.

For Leaders, the temptation to ignore this wisdom is multi-dimensional:

  • Insecure Leaders will avoid being near the most talented person in the room for fear of being exposed by comparison, leading them to surround themselves with mediocre talent;
  • Myopic Leaders will incorrectly conclude that they are the most talented person in the room, resulting in their failing to properly leverage the superior talents of the people right under their nose;
  • Ego-Driven Leaders will never leave a room once they have become the most talented person in it, preferring the psychological comfort of being at the top of even a short totem pole over the discomfort and humility of seeking out Growth.

If you’re the type of leader who is focused on being the Best In The Room, that goal is easy enough achieved — find a small enough room, marginalize the threats to your status, and you’ll arrive at your destination in due time.

However, if you’re the type of leader who is focused on becoming Better, that goal is also easy enough achieved:

  • follow Ramis’ advice and make yourself an asset to the most talented person in the room;
  • follow Kleon’s advice and find the next room (preferably a bigger one);
  • keep moving (to the most talented person in the room, and then to the next room), because there is always more journey to be had on the road to becoming Better, so long as you don’t let the mirage of Having Arrived distract you.