EMBA: Art and Leadership or the Art of Leadership

by mba

Imagine, create and achieve

Mehmet Baha is the founder of Solution Folder, which provides learning solutions to make companies more collaborative and agile. After obtaining a scholarship from Fulbright, he took his Master’s degree in the US in the area of conflict resolution. He was also one of the first employees of Facebook in Europe, where he helped the company scale its business. So far, he has given speeches and training in 24 countries. Recently, he completed the MIT Sloan executive education programme entitled “Leading Organisations and Change”.

Considering an EMBA? Share your goals for 2022!

You are a musician and a business trainer. What is inspiration? If you have to prioritise the top five leadership traits, where do you rank inspiration and why?

I see inspiration as showing others that what they think impossible is possible and empowering them do it. I consider sensemaking, relating, visioning, inventing, and inspiration – in that order – as the top five leadership traits. The first four of these traits are from MIT’s four-capability leadership model. Sensemaking is about analysing the competitive environment, understanding what is new in a market, identifying the present state of the business, and dealing with analytics. Relating is the ability to create ties with other people and build social capital (who we know) & political capital (who we know who can help us achieve our goals). We have a visioning capability when we know where we are going and why. Creating a new product/service is an example of inventing capability. Inspiration is ranked last. It is nice to inspire people. However, on its own it is not enough to move organisations forward.

Is inspiration contagious? What is the neuroscience behind it?

Yes, absolutely, inspiration is contagious. It is about the concept of “emotional contagion” which means that people can pick up others’ emotions. In other words, emotional contagion is the transmission of emotions. Our brains have an open loop system that allows this. Social contagion picks up behaviour, for example when we copy the behaviour of another person: one person starts to yawn and others yawn. Richard Boyatzis, a prominent expert on leadership, states that when we are in a position of leadership/authority, other people are watching us. We spread our own feelings to our team. Think of a time when you experienced a positive emotional contagion at work. It might be due to an inspiring leader or a work environment based on trust, collaboration, and respect.

EMBA: Art and Leadership or the Art of Leadership

If an organisation is to be a symphony orchestra, what is the key to an outstanding performance? Are senior business leaders the composers, the conductors, or the concertmasters?

An outstanding performance can be created by a high-performing team. There can be four aspects to creating such a team. One is feeling part of a team, trust, strengths, and feedback. Being part of a team is the most important driver of employee engagement, according to the study of ADP Research Institute. If we are on a team, we are twice as likely to have a high engagement as those who are not. This is about a sense of belonging. A trusted team leader is the second aspect of building highly engaged teams. If employees trust their leader, they are 12 times more likely to be fully engaged at work. Besides, “using our strengths every day at work” is the single most important indicator of team productivity. Marcus Buckingham states that strengths are not simply tasks we are good at doing. Maybe we are good at them, but they bore us or drain our energy. We have a strength in an area, when (a) we look forward to it, (b) we are in the flow while doing it, and (c) we feel fulfilled after doing it. As leaders, it is crucial for us to know our own strengths as well as the strengths of our team members. According to research at Gallup, positive feedback is 30 times more powerful than negative feedback in creating a high performing team. Focusing mainly on negative feedback is not the best way to enable learning. Buckingham writes: “People grow the most under positive attention and the least under negative feedback.” As senior leaders, depending on the context we can be composers (creating a new strategy), conductors (guiding) or concertmaster (running the show).

What does successful business leadership take today and does the future call for a new leadership mindset or skill set?

Successful business leaders today should embrace Agile. In its essence, Agile is about continuously adding value for customers, who can be internal or external customers. Steve Denning, a leading expert on Agile, says “Only the Agile will survive”. This holds true for business leaders especially in these challenging times of Covid-19. So, we need to have an Agile mindset which focuses on customers, enables cross-functional work and creates a system which allows Agile at an organisational level. The “Modern Agile Values” created by Joshua Kerievsky are very relevant too. These four values are: make people awesome, make safety a prerequisite, deliver value continuously, and experiment & learn rapidly. The first one is about making not only our employees but also our customers, suppliers, and the whole ecosystem great. The second one signifies creating a psychologically safe workplace. The third one is about delivering value continuously rather than focusing on delivering work. It should add value for customers. The last one is about becoming more data-driven and learning fast from failures.

Is leadership art?

The concept of leadership can include concepts of art. However, I would not say that leadership is 100% art. In art, it can be common to make decisions based on gut feeling. In business, making decisions based only on gut feeling is not advisable at all. We need to take into account data before making business decisions.

What can/should business leaders learn from art and what kind of art-based training has been most effective and why?

Art can evoke emotions. Learning experiences which include art can activate the right side of the brain involving emotions. This helps learners have an emotional connection to the topic. This way, they are more likely to remember it.

In my work, I use a concept called “Lifelong Kindergarten” which was developed by Prof. Mitchel Resnick at MIT Media Lab. This is an effective way of training. This approach includes peers, projects and play. Peers means that participants work in groups in a learning experience and they do certain projects together. Play is about trying something new, making mistakes, learning from them and improving. Currently, I offer a live online team experience called Team Beats™ which is based on sound and music and allows learners to play with sounds and collaborate. The purpose of this experience is to create a shared vision of collaboration in the workplace. Sound is just a metaphor for collaboration.

If practice makes perfect in the performing arts, what should the routine be of those who aim to master the art of leadership?

Imagine, create and achieve! To achieve, it is of course fine to make mistakes, learn from them and improve. That is how we as leaders can innovate and thrive.

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