I read something the other day that got me to thinking about the workings of perception in how we judge leaders. It got me to thinking about the power of aesthetics in our decision making.
Leadership is like beauty in this way: you know it when you see it. It’s hard to put your finger on exactly what makes something beautiful or what makes someone a successful leader. Most people don’t put much effort in puzzling it out, they just relate seeing with being. But of course many things aren’t as they seem upon close inspection. This is especially true with the qualities we ascribe to people in leadership positions. My experience tells me that a lot of people refer to people as leaders that, in my view, just don’t really make the grade. We’re quick to be taken in by what Stephen Covey called the personality ethic, whereas the leaders that most of us truly appreciate and long for embody the character ethic. Successful leadership is difficult. It requires real character strength, constant engagement, a lot of energy, and a willingness to listen…which is a quality far less present in many so called leaders of today than people realize. Believe me.
Like beauty, successful leadership has a strong aesthetic element to it and that’s what makes understanding leadership and, by the way, teaching leadership so challenging. It’s “the character” and “the quality” of something that really matters and is what ultimately succeeds with people. The aesthetic appreciation of leadership, like beautiful architecture, is felt and acquired in seeing the careful and elegant blending of force and form. Most aspiring leaders are quick to master the force, but so few seem to have the discipline and character to master the form.