What Leaders Can Learn from Artists

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There is a terrible misconception emanating from self-help books and life coaches. Perhaps you’ve heard it. It goes like this: if only you can just determine what you are really passionate about, success will be yours. Many people seem to think that passion is like a hidden river; once you find it, you simply have to launch your canoe and it will carry you briskly away to a land of achievement and success—no paddling required.

But as any successful artist can tell you, this is a fantasy. I mention artists because they represent a group of people who accomplish great things by integrating passion with discipline. They have no board of directors or shareholders to report to. They have few meetings to be at. No quarterly reviews. No one will fire them if they don’t show up to work one day. And yet, they keep showing up day after day.

Consider a few quotes from some of the greats:


“Inspiration is for amateurs – the rest of us just show up and get to work.”

–Chuck Close


“I’ve read Borges of course, although not nearly all of it, and I don’t know anything about the way he worked – but the photograph [of him] shows us a writer who did not waste time at the window or anywhere else. So I’ve tried to make him my guide out of lethargy and drift, into the other world of magic, art, and divination.”

–Don DeLillo


“So when you’re finished with a film, what else do you do? A couple of days go by, you get bored, and I think to myself, let’s work. It’s how I define my life.”

–Woody Allen


“Why do people think artists are special? It’s just another job.”

–Andy Warhol


My brother, Rick Beerhorst, is an artist working in Grand Rapids. I know that what he does each day depends very little on how particularly inspired or passionate he feels that morning. Each painting begins with a vision or a spark and then he spends weeks making daily efforts to work incrementally towards it. He does not require daily inspiration or the presence of a muse. Those are fickle things, not nearly as reliable as practicing a disciplined approach to work.


Yes, passion is important. At Sterling Integrators we consider it a starting point. It indicates in which direction you should be going and provides the initial push towards a new vision. But passion is only half of the equation. So, have the faith to pursue your passion but don’t be surprised or distraught when that passion seems to disappear behind the clouds for a while. It will come back, and when it does you should be hard at work continuing on in the same direction as when it left.

And if you don’t know what you’re passionate about or don’t feel like you can create discipline in your life, I recommend you hire someone who can help you find your way.

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