Painting of ocean depicting leadershipI recently attended a Paint and Sip class with a close friend of mine. What originally began as a nice birthday gift, quickly became a powerful lesson in leadership. Paint and Sip classes are events where individuals go to paint an image (the one you see here is my own) and typically accompanied with some drinks.

As I was following directions by our instructor on how to mix paints and how to use the right brushstroke, I quickly realized the important leadership lessons that were being taught. Here are just three leadership lessons that I learned from painting:

  1. Perfectionism will hold you back. I will be the first to admit that I have some perfectionistic tendencies, and more of then not, they hold me back. Individuals, like myself, often worry about the worse possible outcomes, and never even consider the best possible outcomes. We tend to believe that failure always leads to irreversible disasters. That is often not the case and instead failure leads to learning. I had to remind myself, that to enjoy the process of painting, I cannot be a perfectionist. Leadership is the same way. There is no right way to be a leader. Leadership is dynamic and contextual and something that works in one setting may not work in another. By listening to feedback on how we are doing as a leader, we can increase our level of self-awareness and address potential blind spots. When we hear things that seem out of sync from the image that we are trying to project – we can try something different. Though we will not have all of the answers, we should enjoy the process of developing as a leader. We must try, fail, and learn from experience.
  2. Growth Mindset vs. Fixed Mindset. As leaders, we are faced with obstacles every day. We lose one of our largest customers, we’re faced with excessive turnover, or one of our managers is accused of harassing a coworker. Obstacles are also presented during the painting process. We are heavy-handed with our brushstrokes. We didn’t mix the right colors. We accidentally splattered some black where we meant to paint red. As we are faced with obstacles, we must develop a Growth Mindset. We must take the perspective that an obstacle is a challenge to be overcome. When we don’t have the answers or solutions, we reach out to mentors and coaches who can guide us in the right direction. Most people take on a Fixed Mindset, that obstacles cannot be overcome and they allow those obstacles to derail them. With painting, when we make a mistake, we let the paint dry and paint again. We will have moments in our leadership development journey where we WILL fail, but we can use that failure as an opportunity to learn and grow.
  3. Coping with change. Oftentimes, we are limited by our ability to achieve our goals because we don’t know how to start. Effective leaders understand how to create a vision for change. They understand how to paint a future desired state that is different and better than the current state. They make sure to share how the future state is beneficial for the organization and for the people, but they also don’t sugarcoat the fact that the path forward will be difficult. Organizational growth, much like painting, is a process. When painting, have the end goal in mind, and use that to overcome minor setbacks in the process. Understand that those setbacks are natural, and that by not dwelling on any single issue, we will be able to achieve our goal. If I stopped and critiqued my work every step of the way; poor blending, improper brush selection, I would have never achieved my goal. A goal and a painting that makes me happy.

These are just three of the many lessons that I was left with while painting my masterpiece. In the future, I will share further lessons from this very enjoyable experience. There are many metaphors for leadership. What are some that resonate with you? Please share them in the comments – I look forward to hearing from you.