Beautiful leadership and the need for artistic vision

Strategic visioning, whose outcome is a vision statement, has gained a stronghold among organizations since it caught the world by storm in the late 1980s. The results were initially fantastic—suddenly organizational life, especially for profit companies—were about more than just the money. There was purpose and meaning.

Then, these visions, set into concise vision statements, found their way into the lobby walls of corporate headquarters and branches, and into employee on-boarding programs. Some organizations, like one personal care manufacturing conglomerate I got to consult with in the early 2000s, launched programs to communicate and secure understanding—if not support—from various stakeholders such as suppliers and key accounts. 

Time, however, proved the ever-accurate judge. As vision statements got hung on office walls, so did it fade, tarnish and accumulate dust and cobwebs.  How many on-boarding sessions have I seen when visions are only briefly discussed, in a by-the-way or in-passing fashion, and never critically dissected and communicated in a manner that is relevant and valuable? Some sessions even just ask their employees to read through the manual, declare that they understood it, and sign-off on an undertaking! And underpinning the entire buy-in process is the classic question: what’s in it for me?  Organizations scrub employee backs if they do likewise. Where are the other stakeholders in this vision? How can this mutual scrubbing be more than just about the money?

Did it show in the pudding? From the late 1990s to the first decade of the 21st century, we have seen only a continuous explosion of corporate, financial and economic debacles that destroyed legacy corporations, put executives in jail, made countries bankrupt and left hundreds of families homeless and hungry. These, and more, are only evidences of what Nancy Adler refers as “the results of the twentieth century’s long experiment in ugliness” (2015).

Without having to trivialize the various external factors that have contributed to these tragic events, I propose that by-and-large, the inability of organizations to translate vision into visionary and value-laden processes and leadership hastened the experiment in ugliness. The utilitarian mindset in businesses still prevail. All elements must lead to profit, even if it means compromising or sacrificing elements of their vision, some of those values, and worse, some of their people.  

Reversing the observations of the likes of Adler requires a commitment of leaders to experiment, if not create, beauty. This kind of beauty is not the mundane notion of aesthetic taste, but that of a strong sense of proportion, harmony and clarity. It means forging organizations beyond money-making machines.

This means creating organizations from the vantage point of an artistic vision. The leader does not see the financial value of the firm twenty years down the road, just as no artist creates with a vision of how much his or her painting will fetch fifty years later at an auction.  

Rather, the leader embraces a message, value, an idea that will always be meaningfully part of society, of cultural life, without detriment to any stakeholder, but a positive force in all its areas of operations. He then orchestrates all the important elements and incorporates—yes incorporates, which means to fully embed and make a necessary part of the organization—each stakeholder to make the artistic vision a realized work of art. 

To think that this is impossible is sweeping haste. There are companies out there, just on or below the public radar, who have gradually begun embracing the principles of what I have come to label as beautiful leadership, focused on realizing what can be accurately called an artistic vision. 

One personal and home care manufacturing company has strengthened its commitment to use only organic materials for their products, and has slowly adopted sustainability initiatives such as product refilling stations. They have made it an organizational policy that 70 percent of their manpower complement should be composed of youth-at-risk who have been hired, and provided a chance to go to college while receiving company-sponsored counseling services. Top management scorecards are broken down into three non-negotiable components: profit, time and effort spent with youth-at-risk mentees, and the manager’s self-care commitment. The founder and chief executive mandated: we must be profitable and grow our sales if we are to help more youth. 

This is beautiful leadership creating a work of art, founded on a clear artistic vision. If it is possible for them, it can be possible for many.  Let’s start dreaming our artistic visions, work with others to make them real, and make a better, more beautiful world. 

Denver Bingski Daradar is an assistant professorial lecturer at the Management and Organization Department, Ramon V. del Rosario College of Business, De La Salle University. His current areas of interest and reflections cover the broad, emerging discussion on beautiful leadership, grounded in metaphysics, and expressed in strategic management. The views stated in this article are the author’s and do not represent the views of the university or its administrators. [email protected]

Topics: Organizations , Nancy Adler , Visions , stakeholder , products
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