Artists – Are You A Leader?

Engraving of Alexander the Great

You don’t need to be Alexander the Great to be considered a leader in your business, your field of art or your community!

You don’t have to be in the military or in politics to be a leader.  Leaders come from all walks of life and the art world is no exception.  There are leaders in business, the affairs of a community, promoting a cause or idea as well as leaders in a circle of friends or family.

As an artist you need to be concerned about leading your art business especially if you employ or work with others.  You should also be concerned about being a leader in your field and don’t forget about being a leader in your community.

A traditional definition of a leader is one who is able to get people to accomplish a common task or achieve a common goal.  There is a big difference between being a leader and being a boss.  A leader is followed because they have a vision and they can motivate people to excel.  A boss rules because they have the power or stripes on their shoulder to do so.  Companies, organizations, sports teams and armies that have great leaders will always outperform their competition.  If you are managing as a “boss” you are putting yourself at a great disadvantage.

Alexander the Great

Great leaders come from all walks of life, some do great “big” things and some do great “small” things, all which require the help of others working together as an effective team.  One of the great examples of leadership is Alexander the Great, King of Macedonia.  At the young age of 22 he began a 10 year successful campaign to conquer a large part of the ancient world to include Egypt, Assyria, Babylonia, and Persia.  His territorial ambitions were halted in India where he ran across stiff opposition but perhaps more importantly his men lost their will to fight and wanted to get back to their families – even great leadership has its limitations.

So how did Alexander get his men to follow him for ten years and conquer a large part of the ancient world? – Through leadership!  Alexander was loved by his men and they showed it by their willingness to follow him to the ends of earth.

Here are some of the reasons why Alexander was able to accomplish so much:

  • He had a vision and a plan and could sell his ideas to his men.  Alexander’s men would follow him into hell, something which I would imagine that they came quite close to in their 10 year campaign.
  • Alexander set an example for his men as he was always at the head of and participated in battle – he walked the talk!
  • He was the first to rise and the last one to go to bed and his men were taken care of first.
  • He listened to and was fair and generous to the peoples he conquered by making them a part of his empire. He once proclaimed that all people in the empire were Macedonians and would be treated equally as such.

So how do I become a leader?

You don’t need to be in control of an army, political party or large company to be a leader.  You just need a vision, a plan and the ability to make it a reality.  There is an old saying that there are three kinds of people; those that make things happen, those who watch things happen and those who wondered what happened…  I suspect that leaders spend most of their time in the category of people who make things happen!

There are countless examples in history, books, courses and seminars on developing your leadership skills.  It would be well worth your time to take a look at developing your own leadership skills. Your leadership skills will play an important part in the success of your art business as well as your personal brand or reputation.  Leaders are made not born and there is probably a leader in all of us – even you and me!

Some Quotes on Leadership

  • “The boss drives group members; the leader coaches them. “
  • “The boss depends upon authority; the leader on good will.”
  • “The boss inspires fear; the leader inspires enthusiasm.”
  • “The boss says ‘I’; the leader says ‘we.”
  • “The boss assigns the task, the leader sets the pace.”
  • “The boss says, ‘Get there on time’; the leader gets there ahead of time.”
  • “The boss fixes the blame for the breakdown; the leader fixes the breakdown.”
  • “The boss knows how it is done; the leader shows how.”
  • “The boss makes work drudgery; the leader makes it a game.”
  • “The boss says, ‘Go; the leader says, Let’s go.“
  • “A good objective of leadership is to help those who are doing poorly to do well and to help those who are doing well to do even better.”  – Jim Rohn
  • “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” – Peter Drucker
  • “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower
  • “Good leadership consists of showing average people how to do the work of superior people.” – John D. Rockefeller
  • “The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority.” – Ken Blanchard
  • “The function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers.” – Ralph Nader
  • “Contrary to the opinion of many people, leaders are not born. Leaders are made, and they are made by effort and hard work.” – Vince Lombardi
  • -“My father had a simple test that helps me measure my own leadership quotient: When you are out of the office he once asked me, does your staff carry on remarkably well without you?”

The bottom line(s)…

You need leadership to guide the success of your arts business.  This may be leadership in working with others, exploring a genre or perfecting a process or technique.  Successful businesses also extend their leadership skills to helping out their community or promoting a cause or idea – you can too.  If you have some quotes or examples of leadership I invite you to share them.  Good Luck!


Neil McKenzie is the author of The Artist’s Business and Marketing ToolBox – How to Start, Run and Market a Successful Arts or Creative Business available in softcover from Barnes & Noble and Amazon and as an eBook from iTunes, Amazon and Barnes & Noble.   He has developed and teaches the course “Artrepreneurship” at the Center for Innovation at Metropolitan State University of Denver, and is also a visiting professor at University College at the University of Denver where he teaches “Marketing the Arts”.

Neil has over 30 years’ experience as a management consultant and marketing executive, working with some of the world’s top brands. Neil is a frequent lecturer to artists and arts organizations, a guest columnist for Colorado Biz Magazine, where he covers the creative sector of the economy, and the author of several articles for Americans for the Arts, a national arts organization. Follow Neil on Twitter: @neilmckenzphoto