“Is there anything more dangerous than sympathetic understanding?”
Pablo Picasso is regarded as one of greatest artists in history. He was beyond category. He suffered no fools. He defied Hitler with his master work Guernica. He often said “Bad artists copy. Good artists steal.”
But what was he stealing? He hints at it when he says “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.” His theft, or perhaps what he was trying to maintain, was a view of the world from a child’s eyes.. He understood it was normal to lose the precocious wonder of childhood as he grew older; it was that wonder that fueled his creativity and he didn’t want to lose contact with it.
Picasso may have been a painter first, but he used his talents to become a leader. He used his art to express his views of the world and he used his standing to provoke how people thought. He was a bit of a social change agent, before those words were ever strung together.
One of Picasso’s most important skills, as both a painter and leader, was to cultivate a view divergent from the status quo. He was always observing the world, asking questions, inferring meaning and then running experiments with new styles of painting. He was hunting for his blindspots, working to understand his unconscious assumptions about painting and the world. Divergent views is the third element in the practice of leadership development. It compliments The Arena and The Balcony.
Those of us who lead, can take a leadership lesson from Picasso. Blindspots, assumptions and mental models can cause damage to a leader, the team and organization. The counterbalance for a leader is to have access to divergent points of view. Most of the time, leaders are surrounded by people who avoid confronting the leader and his thinking.
Consider the United States. No one is under any illusion that President Trump is open to examining his blindspots, being curious and asking deep questions. Considering what is at stake, his approach cannot be good for any of us.
What is the criteria for cultivating a divergent view? A start would be to recruit between three and four people to support your development who care about you as a person. They probably do not work directly for you. They are people who understand the value of candor and are not intimidated by you. These people embody deep listening and inquiry. They ask hard questions.
Ideally at least one person does not understand your business but does understand people. A bonus would be to have a confidant who is artistic. Artists just see the world differently. Having an artistic viewpoint will freshen a leader’s thinking. If a coach is doing good work for a leader, it is likely that she often brings a divergent point of view to the conversation.
This cohort of people will help a leader slow down and think before acting on difficult decisions. I have seen these people indirectly save the career of a few leaders by helping them think deeply about hard decisions.
In my life, my wife Theresa, is a wonderful and sometimes difficult source for divergent views on my work. She knows me well. I trust her judgement but I often have difficulty understanding what she’s saying in the moment. I am uncomfortable being seen and understood so well by another person. I have no place to hide or rationalize my thinking. Her different point of view always stays with me and I usually work my way around to incorporate her ideas into my thinking. But it is not easy.
I believe that your leadership development practice needs decent doses of time in the arena, getting on the balcony and having access to divergent viewpoints. Put these three elements together and you add pace to your leadership growth.
You just might free yourself some time to take up painting.
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