According to Walter B. Elcock, former Executive Vice President of the BCA 10 awarded Bank of America and current President of the Dallas Museum of Art, regularly attending art events gives aspiring managers a competitive advantage.
Elcock began his career studying studio art at the University of North Texas, but transferred to the world of finance after the birth of his first child. He states that the practice of continually engaging the arts from college through his working adult life developed key traits that helped him quickly climb the corporate ladder – rising from management trainee to EVP.
“Over time, it became apparent to me that my learning and continuing experiences in the arts were significantly influencing my professional development as an employee, and then more so as an executive. Traits considered critical to corporate analysis and decision-making were forcefully illustrated to me through the arts: curiosity, creativity, fearlessness and perseverance.”
Engaging visual art exhibitions developed interpersonal skills crucial for Elcock’s advancement into executive leadership roles - teaching him how to improve the dynamics between himself, fellow employees, vendors and clients.
“Great art will challenge your assumptions of the world and your perception of your place in it. A moving performance will force you to reconcile your emotions with your logic and that can be quite a threat. The reward, however, is significant. For me, I learned to listen more intently and to look at a problem through new eyes. That helped me solve my customer's problems more effectively and build better work relationships.”
The skill Elcock developed via the arts is known as decentering, a trait the Harvard Business Review claims is crucial for managing workplace relationships.
Decentering involves taking a figurative step back from one’s beliefs and thoughts, observing a problem from a neutral stand-point and considering alternative points of view.
The Harvard Business Review (HBR) states that decentering is critical for inspiring and motivating others. The skill creates leaders that are better positioned for creating strong teams – seeing people not as problems, but puzzles.
“The manager needs to look at the employee not as a problem to be solved but as a person to be understood.” – Harvard Business Review
How to cultivate decentering in your organization via the arts
In analyzing performance or visual arts, one seeks to observe, understand and then interpret the intentions behind a body of work.
- What was the artists’ motivation?
- What action (or inaction) were they seeking to inspire?
- How does this work fit into the large theme of what has been created?
If you think these questions look like they came directly from art history class you would be correct.
Per Elcock’s example, when applied to the business world, this same analysis framework creates managers that are more in tune to the people and situations around them.
Reason being, studying one’s employees, clients and vendors just as intently as an artist or critic would research and analyze a body of work leads to a greater appreciation of the motivations and driving-factors impacting their behaviors.
Adapt the questions above to your business institution by replacing artist with the appropriate stakeholder, whether an employee, client or third-party vendor. Need help creating and executing a framework? Partner with a local arts organization to offer employees experiences that foster decentering and create stronger teams within your business.
Photo Credit: Dallas Museum of Art, Twitter May 28th, 2017