© 2020 Patrick McAndrew

  • Pat McAndrew

How Business Leaders and Artists Can Learn From Each Other


I feel very privileged to be working in the theater industry.  For the most part, artists are very open-minded, very accepting of those from different cultural and racial backgrounds, and advocates for positive and lasting change throughout the country and the world.  Artists are active doers and step forward to get things done.  They are expressive and tend to be kind, giving, and friendly individuals, always looking to collaborate and work together to reach a common goal.   Our work is often viewed as mission work and a service to those who want to experience the arts as a means of healing, entertainment, or education.  On the hole, artists are pretty awesome people! Yay artists!  “But wait just a second there, friend!”  Despite all the love and openness, in my experience there is one group of people that many artists often shy away from, and sadly scorn from time to time.


Business owners.  Business leaders.  Wealthy people.  There have been many a time where I have heard many artists criticize the morals and ethics of those in the corporate world.  “Money-hungry capitalists!”  “I hate capitalism!”  “Do they care about anything besides the almighty dollar?”


Sure, there may be a handful of people who care about money above everything else.  These are the people often covered in the news for money-laundering and corporate fraud; people who steal away millions and millions of dollars for their own benefit while there are millions of other people starving around the world.  With this said, however, there are many good people who are providing incredible services to the public who deserve to be rewarded for their commitment to their customers.


So why do so many artists look down on those who are successful in the business world?  I think it’s because there is not much money in the arts and, as such, some artists view themselves as more virtuous than those in the corporate world.  “I don’t need to be rich to be happy.”  “I do it for the love of the craft; not for the money.  I’m very wholesome.”  While these may be valid points, we need money to live!  It’s how the economy runs and works on a day-to-day basis.  It’s easy for artists to fall into a poverty trap because our focus is more often on artistic endeavors than eating healthy or making money.  Artists can learn A LOT from business owners and leaders when it comes to creating something that the audience, or the “market,” wants.  Also, if it weren’t for wealthy business owners and investors, a lot of the theater, dance, music, and all other forms of art we love to experience wouldn’t even exist.  There is a lot of value in earning money while keeping in mind that money isn’t everything.


That’s not to say that business tycoons cannot learn from their artistic friends.  Artists learn critical interpersonal skills that are essential in a business setting.  We can find many empathetic, kind, and open-hearted individuals who are involved in the arts.  Actors and musicians must have keen listening skills to put up an engaging performance.  Dancers must express themselves kinesthetically and develop a strong awareness between mind and body.  Painters and poets develop powerful expression through creative means.  These skills, often thought of as second nature to these artists, are exceedingly rare in the business world where the focus is on numbers, projections, and profit.  Many business professionals are so glued to their devices that they barely think about the effect that they are having on their employees.  Many are simply unaware of the unhappiness of their employees and the dread they face in going to work everyday.


Bob Kulhan, CEO and Founder of Business Improvisations and author of Getting To ‘Yes, And’ (I highly recommend this book for both business people and artists!), runs a successful company which uses improvisation to develop effective and strategic communication in the work place.  He quotes, “Employees don’t quit companies; they quit people.  Improvisation is about reacting, adapting, and communicating.  Reacting, adapting, and communicating are not a matter of choice for business people; they’re a matter of basic survival.”  Kulhan is laying the groundwork for crucial collaboration between an artistic skill set and efficiency in business.


Artists are experts when it comes to developing and nurturing deep and meaningful relationships because their work requires it.  CEOs and other business leaders often lack important skills in leadership because they lack an awareness of the needs of their employees.  If your employees are happy, it is much more likely your customers will be happy.  How many people do you know that hate their job?  This is often due in part because of the work culture the top management has created, not the job itself.  If top management creates an environment that is open, cohesive, empathetic, and encourages active listening, then companies will see the results they are looking for.  If employees love their job and enjoy going to work, they will be much more likely to be productive throughout the day.  It doesn’t hurt for these business people to take a page out of the artists’ handbook.


And, in turn, it doesn’t hurt artistic people to take a page out of the business leaders’ handbook.  Except for a few rotten eggs, corporations make a lot of money for a good reason.  Their focus and determination can be a valuable asset for the ‘head-in-the-clouds’ artist.  At the end of the day, it comes to the fact that the learning never stops.  We must all learn from each other’s strengths, weaknesses, accomplishments, and failures.  We mustn’t write off one another because we come from a different socio-economic background, in much the same way that we shouldn’t write someone off because of their sexual orientation or religious beliefs.  Business people can benefit immensely from the people skills that artists cultivate, and artists can benefit immensely from the drive and financial skills that business people possess.  So long as you accept both fronts, it’s a win-win.

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