Turning Arts Entrepreneurs into Inspired Leaders: Know Your WHY

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5275403364 6396c50053 zMy project in working with musicians and arts leaders is not only to teach arts entrepreneurship—the mindset, skillset and process of actualizing an innovative idea—but also to take entrepreneurship to the next level of cultural leadership

To do so, I have my students articulate the greater purpose underlying WHY they make music, teach, perform and then communicate that purpose to the audience on whom they want to have an impact.

In fact, by knowing your WHY, you can become the kind of leader who inspires others to follow and support you.

So how do great leaders inspire others?

I found the answer in Simon Sinek’s brilliant TED talk on how great leaders inspire action.

Sinek explains that while many leaders tell us WHAT they do and HOW they do it, inspired leaders focus instead on WHY they do what they do. 

And their WHY is not to make profits or to make computers.  WHY is the purpose for which they exist, the cause they espouse, the belief that gets them out of bed in the morning. And Sinek posits that people do not buy WHAT you do; they buy WHY you it.  And they buy for themselves, not for you, because you are creating the emotional bond that resonates with them.

Take Apple. 

Apple’s WHY is not to sell computer, but rather to challenge the status quo, think differently and make simple, user friendly and beautifully designed products. Computers, iPhones, iPads are the vehicles for the WHY.  And we buy those computers, iPhones and iPads because we too want to challenge the status quo and think differently. 

Let’s see how music entrepreneurs can become inspired leaders by focusing on their WHY.


This week, the budding music entrepreneurs in my Yale class tackled the question of their greater purpose through the lens of personal branding

Branding is a marketing tool consisting of  your message of

  • what makes you unique and memorable and distinguishes you from your competition 
  • so that your target audience connects with you emotionally and will want to hire you/buy from you/work with you.

A brand communicates your authentic unique gift to the people you want to attract and expresses your vision of who you are and what you do for your audiences.  As such, it creates an emtional connection between you and your audience because you are communicating your WHY to the audience who resonates with that WHY. 

Thus, not only is branding a practical tool for getting your message out to the right people but it is also a vehicle for inspired leadership tool that can help to build audiences.

Here’s why.

When you create your brand through a 4-step process, not only do you figure out what makes you unique and memorable.  You also identify your target audience and articulate your purpose in what you do by answering the following question:

Why do I do what I do?

Admittedly, this is a hard question to answer.  It starts with imagining the world as an ideal place and figuring out your version of the perfect world, highlighting the people whom you impact and the role you play in making the world a better place.  This will help you to find your life purpose.

And my class is filled with idealist, passionate musicians who are determined to make an impact on society.  So we examined this question and came up with a wonderful range of WHY’s: 

  • To translate the emotional power of music to my audiences
  • To improve the human condition
  • To make the world a better place by offering great music
  • To unite, uplift and educate the world around me
  • To help audiences understand themselves and one another through music
  • To share their gift and connect one human soul to another
  • To inspire and uplift people in a community
  • To spread joy and happiness.

Thus, my students understood that they use their gift of music as a vehicle for a greater purpose.

Once you connect your WHY with your Audience’s WHY, it will create a powerful bond that will attract your audiences to what you do so that you can communicate it to your audiences and have them follow you, attend your performances and events and support your art.

To quote Simon Sinek:

“We follow those who lead, not because we have to, but because we want to. We follow those who lead, not for them, but for ourselves. And it’s those who start with “why” that have the ability to inspire those around them or find others who inspire them.”

So stay tuned for more from our entrepreneurs as they turn their statements of WHY into brand statements that can attract the new audiences that will keep our field alive and vital.