Leadership Distilled as Art

Leadership is an Art introduced Every Leader is an Artist and how Michael O’Malley & William F. Baker champion that Leadership is an Art and every Leader is an Artist.

The 12 criteria or aspects of leadership — Intent, Focus, Skill, Form, Representation, Imagination, Authenticity, Engagement, Pleasure, Human Significance, Context, and Criticism — described in the book can be visualized (a drawing that emerged through conversation) and explored to yield some very interesting clusters of concepts or cluster groups (and offer some insights).

(click figure to enlarge)


The first (Intent), second (Focus), and third (Skill) aspects seemingly cluster around the concept of an Enterprise.

Intent: Leadership Begins in the Mind

  • Make an express commitment to achieve certain exceptional ends.
  • What am I trying to accomplish?

Focus: Emphasizing the Center of Attention

  • Uses various verbal and nonverbal means to highlight certain features of the business environment over others in order to separate the important from the trivial.
  • How will I focus, or frame, the action on what is most important without relying exclusively on words?

Skill: If You Are Incapable of Doing It, It Can’t Be Done

  • Demonstrates mastery or virtuosity over the financial and nonfinancial aspects of business — possesses a foundation for understanding people, organizations, and the way work is accomplished.
  • Do I have full command of the medium, methods, and techniques that will allow me to excel?

Intent emphasizes commitment to ends, focus emphasizes highlighting what is important, and skill emphasizes understanding how things are accomplished. Every enterprise must focus skill on intent!


The fifth (Representation), sixth (Imagination), and seventh (Authenticity) aspects seemingly cluster around the concept of an Individual.

Representation: Many Ways to Say Things

  • Produces nonobvious and captivating ways of conveying meanings as opposed to giving simple directives and making straightforward declarations of fact.
  • Do I use a full range of methods of communication, including symbols, to unambiguously convey my points?

Imagination: Social Constructions and the Land of Make-Believe

  • Makes surprising and unconventional departures from the ordinary that create a new sense of awareness or understanding.
  • Do I produce imaginative, original, and stimulating ways of conducting business, and have I created a company where inspired thinking thrives?

Authenticity: Genuine Creations

  • Presents stylistic distinctiveness that is an honest expression of individuality and personal beliefs.
  • Do I act in a manner that is true to my beliefs and that clearly articulates who I am and what I stand for?

Representation emphasizes meaning, imagination emphasizes awareness, and authenticity emphasizes individuality. Every individual expresses themselves (individual authenticity) through their awareness and representations.


The eighth (Engagement), ninth (Pleasure), and tenth (Human Significance) aspects seemingly cluster around the concept of a Collective.

Engagement: The Curious Culture

  • Offers complex and challenging information that encourages intellectual effort and imaginative contemplation.
  • Do I produce a challenging and intellectually stimulating environment where people feel compelled to take on issues and work hard to generate solutions?

Pleasure: Emotional Nourishment and Personal Enrichment

  • Provides emotionally rewarding experiences that are shared among members of a group, promoting stronger interpersonal bonds and fostering personal growth and fulfillment.
  • Do I produce an enriching and satisfying environment where people are able to thrive and grow?

Human Significance: Why Art and Leadership Persist

  • Facilitates personal reflection about who one is, what is most important, what is culturally valuable, and what is possible.
  • Am I able to build a community that is cemented by basic human needs and concerns?

Engagement emphasizes effort and contemplation, pleasure emphasizes experiences, and human significance emphasizes reflection about one’s identity and what is important, valuable, and possible. Every collective of individuals expresses themselves (collective significance) through their experiences and engagement.


The fourth (Form), eleventh (Context), and twelfth (Criticism) aspects seemingly cluster around the concept of Wholeness.

Form: Putting It All Together

  • Combines myriad communications, structures, policies, etc., into a unified, coherent whole.
  • Have I assembled the various communicative devices into a coherent whole that presents a uniform message and direction?

Context: Right Time, Place, and Methods

  • Takes actions that are commensurate with institutional practices, customs, demands, and norms, adopting a style of communicating that is understandable and appropriate under given circumstances.
  • Do I manifest a distinctive management style, and am I able to adapt my style and approach in order to fit the conditions in which I am operating?

Criticism: Take Me Seriously, Please

  • Is an assessment of the leader’s behaviors, where the effects of those behaviors invite critical discourse and evaluation from others regarding how well a person performed and the amount of appreciation he or she should be afforded.
  • Am I worthy of being judged and appreciated as a leader?

Form emphasizes combining aspects into a whole, context emphasizes actions being commensurate with circumstances, and criticism emphasizes assessment of one’s behavior. Every whole must behave commensurate with its circumstances!

Enterprise, Individual, Collective, and Wholeness

Furthermore, all the aspects seemingly integrate the clusters (or cluster groups).

  • Skill-Representation-Engagement: We accomplish (Skill) what we consider meaningful (Representation) and worthy of our efforts (Engagement).
  • Intent-Authenticity-Human Significance: We commit (Intent) to what we consider expresses our individuality (Authenticity) and worthy of being important, valuable, and possible (Human Significance).
  • Imagination-Pleasure-Focus: Our awareness (Imagination) and experience (Pleasure) determine what we consider important (Focus).

By acknowledging that “there is no one best or true form” of leadership, “accommodating changes in context” wherein to interpret leadership criteria, and using “universal criteria for all kinds of leaders at all organizational levels,” anyone who considers themselves a leader should ponder the following questions (derived from the criteria):

  • Enterprise: What are we trying to accomplish, how will I frame action, and do I have command of the medium?
  • Individual: Do I use symbols to convey meaning, do I produce inspired thinking, and do I act in accordance with what is true?
  • Collective: Do I produce an environment where people are compelled, do I produce an environment where people grow, and am I able to foster community?
  • Wholeness: Have I assembled a uniform whole, do I manifest a distinctive style, and am I worthy of being judged and appreciated?

Every Leader is an Artist elegantly and beautifully expresses the quintessential characteristics of leadership!


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