Why Leadership is an Art

Why Leadership is an Art

A leader with her team working behind her

Entrepreneurial leadership is the art of convincing people and inviting them to follow so that they voluntarily do what I, the leader, think is right for my company. You want to be the type of leader that is not a dictator and is self-proclaiming. So I don’t ‘make’ myself the leader, but my employees decide whether I ‘am’ a leader. I do not ‘create’ a successful and sustainable company, but my customers ‘decide’ whether my products are purchased. And as in analogy to the German painter Paul Klee (1879–1940), “art does not reflect the visible, but makes it visible”, and “leadership does not reflect the visible, but makes visible the lived virtues and sins of the leader”. Nowadays, façade management and stage plays are immediately exposed as such.

“Management is craft and leadership is art.”

Leadership is the litmus test of inner sense and value orientation and one’s own moral compass. When executing leadership behavior, it is very difficult to hide, simulate and pretend. The German comedian Karl Valentin (1882–1948) already knew: “Art comes from ability, not from wanting, otherwise it would have to be called Wunst!”

Leadership is an art, not craft

Management is a craft and leadership is an art. A manager and a leader both want to influence their own and others’ actions. The manager mainly uses his technical skills and the leader rather than his personal skills. Management is therefore a technique and leadership is an art. The manager is ‘me’ related and the leader thinks in ‘we’ categories. He sees his employees more in the center.

Managers sometimes ‘seduce’ and leaders ‘lead’ in the sense of a ‘leader’ who leads the way. Or as the saying goes: “When I talk to Managers, I get the feeling that they are important. When I talk to Leaders I get the feeling that I am important”. Every single person in charge must therefore ask himself whether he is more of a leader or a manager!

Here are a few selective keywords to distinguish:

A manager or boss is a problem solver, while a leader or leader leads the way. While the manager assumes practical responsibility, the leader bears strategic responsibility. The manager can easily be called a doer, while the leader can be characterized more as an entrepreneur. In addition, the manager thinks while a leader thinks ahead.

Managers are specialists, while leaders are generalists. Hence the survival instinct can be attributed to managers. Leaders are much more willing to take risks. A manager also focuses much more on things, while a leader has the person in mind. Another fundamental difference can be found in the way managers and leaders work: managers always want to do things right while paying attention to efficiency. A leader, on the other hand, wants to do the right things and pays attention to effectiveness.


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Am I a manager or a leader?

As a rule, a business career runs over different stages and levels, some of which occur fluently or in parallel. From employee to clerk, from group leader to department head, from authorized signatory to ‘B-director’, and from ‘A-director’ to managing director, from board to chairman of the board, and, as the culmination of lifelong merits, appointment to an advisory board or supervisory board. One of the central questions on any career path is: Am I essentially a craftsman or a manager, a board member or rather a manager?

Unfortunately, practice shows that not all managers or board members are leaders. There is a clear difference between management and leadership. With the realization: “Managers and leaders are completely different types. They differ in their motivation, their biography, and their way of thinking and acting,” Harvard professor Abraham Zaleznik (1924 – 2011) triggered a major debate about the advantages and disadvantages of the two types as early as 1977.

Leadership makes you visible

The German philosopher and composer Theodor W. Adorno (1909–1969) once said: “Art today has the task of bringing chaos into order”. The American writer Norman Mailer (1923–2007) defined it even worse: “Art as a need to frighten”. Rather, art should be seen as motivation and stimulation based on a virtuous orientation towards meaning and values. Leadership today takes morality, ethics, and sustainability for granted. Even if the Irish writer Oskar Wilde (1854–1900) already knew: “Nothing is more implausible than the truth”.

The expectations of the managed employees go far beyond confidence-building measures and verbal declarations of intent. Sophisticated and lived ethics are required. Leadership is an art that does not reflect the visible, but that makes the inner character and the honorable personality of the leader recognizable. Leadership behavior with the goal of not only doing ethical things but doing all things ethically. Only then will my employees accept me as a guide.

This is not a craft. That’s art.