Nurturing Leadership Through the Arts

Recently I was listening to a podcast interviewing author Eric Kaufman about his latest book Four Virtues of a Leader. While I was intrigued by the subject, it occurred to me that in my teaching of young dance artists, these same four virtues are critical.

The first trait is focus. The complexities of body movement, particularly as the dancer matures and must tackle an ever more complex vocabulary requiring strength, flexibility, and balance requires a tremendous amount of concentration and attention to detail. The author asks “what am I creating?” For the artist, this is a critical query while interpreting the intention of the dance maker or choreographer.

The second trait Eric Kaufman explores is courage. For a leader, he encourages the question “what am I avoiding?” The dance student is often unable to make that choice in a classroom setting however it is no less valid as the artist matures. Fearlessness is often encouraged from a young age precisely because it allows for pushing physical boundaries. Pushing beyond yesterdays limitations or not confronting challenges is to limit progress.

Trait number three in the author’s book is grit. With so much interest in the wellness world on resilience, I like to think of this as the foundation that sustains the dancer. Inevitably there will be emotional, physical, and psychological/spiritual setbacks in the trajectory of any artist and this is the ability to bounce back. This hot topic alone can be studied at length however in the life of a dancer, it may be the most important virtue of the four.

Finally, the fourth virtue of a leader is trust. The beauty of this one in the dance world is that we have hundreds of years of history to observe. We know that the training yields great results. Every student stands on the strong shoulders of those who came before them. Trusting the process is not easy for all dance students but once embraced, success is inevitable.

For Kaufmann, these four virtues enable and empower leaders of the world. But every artist, by arts very nature, is given the opportunity and task each and every day to create and recreate their work based on their inner guidance. In Mr. Kaufmann’s work as a leadership coach, he holds people accountable on this path. And for me as a dance educator, I do the same. But at the end of the day in spite of disappointment and frustration, battling physical limitations and fatigue, it is up to the individual. This is how the arts create leaders. Those that learn to trust in themselves and the process, who have the courage to show up, the grit to keep going, and the focus to know why they do WILL be tomorrow’s leaders.

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