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Artist and businessperson – a model for the 21st century executives, leaders, managers and artists

By Mark P. McDonald | March 04, 2013 | 1 Comment


The other day I watched “The History of the Eagles Part 1 & 2”  a documentary on the Eagles, you know the band that brought is Life in the Fast Lane, Hotel California, and the Long Run, among other hits.   The documentary featured the standard story arch of an epic journey of Don Henley, Glen Fry, Joe Walsh, Randy Meisner Timothy B. Schmit, Don Felder, and Bernie Leadon from adolescence to stardom, to break up, the reconciliation and reunion. It’s a long story and while the documentary dragged at times, it kept my attention for the full two hours.

Getting the first person backstory on songs that still play on my iPod was interesting and engrossing.  I did not realize that Greatest Hits was the best selling album of the 20th Century. It was also illuminating as the Eagles were perhaps one of the first bands to take on all sides of the music business.  This became apparent toward the end of the documentary when Glen Fry mentions that one of the conditions of reforming the band was that he and Don Henley would be paid more than the other band members.   The expression on Glen Fry’s face made it clear, this artist was also a businessman and the band is as much a company as it is a communal collaboration.  This got me thinking about what will be required for leaders in the future and the role of the artist as business person and business person as artist.

Conventional wisdom holds that business and art are oil and water – both necessary but not easily mixed.  The media industry grew up based on this assumption with two sides: the artist and the manager.  Technology kept the two apart as one owned the content and the other the channel for the content.

Digital technology has thoroughly erased this dichotomy as demonstrated by multiple artists who not only increasingly go direct to their fans, but also demonstrate a business savvy many executives would envy if they only thought of artists as business people.   Consider artist/business people as diverse as Prince, The String Cheese Incident, Kayne West, Jay Zee, Dolly Parton, the Eagles, Soundgarden, Radiohead, among others and you see creative artists and executives.

Executive as artist is a model for the future in the coming dynamic digital decade.   An artist reflects many of the behaviors and values necessary for long-term success in world where the ability to relate, create, and instigate change define success.

Jim Collins and others have identified traits of successful leaders including: creativity, authenticity, empathy, innovation, inspiration and dedication that are fundamental traits of successful artists.  Maker is another term to describe the fusion of art and business.

Fusing the traits of an artist with the traits of a businessperson provides a model for eliminating the assumed differences between leaders and manager.  The leader/manager distinction, while the foundation for many books is also fundamentally inaccurate at best and prejudicial at worst.   Managers are leaders and leaders need to manage – the real distinction is between leadership-management and administration. We need more leader-managers or manager-leaders to address the challenges we face as a species, society, citizen, customer, associate and just plain human being.

An artist – businessperson has to be both leader and manager. A maker is both. The connection between the two is at least as viable as other models of executive leadership:  as captain, as quarterback, as visionary, as chief/king, etc.    In fact I would argue that future conditions and challenges render these other models of executive leadership increasingly impotent as the means of creation expand, the value of expression rises, the value of variance grows, the innovation becomes the oxygen for growth and human ability shapes value.

It is a world where the values of an artist become salient and the requirement to combine artistic and business accomplishments becomes the foundation for sustainable solutions and success.  It is time to engage, explore and engage your inner artist to bring out these traits sooner rather than latter as the world is only growing more creative, complex and challenging every day and other people are out there making art and building their business.

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