Arts Leadership in the Post-COVID World: Start with the Creative Success Mindset

We are finally reemerging from COVID isolation and the world of the arts is beginning to open up! The past year has seen tremendous change in our field. The pandemic shut down the ability to perform for live audiences. On top of that crisis, we had a collective reckoning with race. Moving forward, today’s arts leaders and professionals are facing a vastly different world as they capture the learning from these twin phenomena. Today’s arts organizations are creating new paradigm.  They strive to present work that is fresh, alive and relevant. This calls for leaders who are flexible and nimble in the face of change. These leaders need to communicate optimism as we move forward. What does it take for today’s leaders to navigate this new world?  It starts with the creative success mindset.

From Mindset to Momentum to Mastery

In my book, Creative Success Now: How Creatives Can Thrive in the 21st Century, I lay out a three-part framework for how arts leaders and professional creatives can achieve success in today’s world:

  1. Adopt the Creative Success Mindset;
  2. Gather momentum by tapping into your Authenticity Set; and
  3. Master the Skills Sets for creative success.

In other words, it’s a journey from Mindset to Momentum to Mastery.

Thus, the start of this work is your mindset and how you approach your journey towards creative success.

The Creative Success Mindset during the COVID Shutdown

It’s instructive to look at arts groups that managed to stay in front of their audiences during the shutdown:

  • The American Composers Orchestra

The American Composers Orchestra (on whose board I serve) is dedicated to the creation, celebration, performance, and promotion of orchestral music by American composers. Throughout the pandemic, ACO continued to commission and perform through its Connecting Community Concerts series.  The ACO also offered on-line professional development workshops for composers as well as composer-to-composer talks.

  • So Percussion

Another example is Sō Percussion (on whose board I also serve). The ensemble creates and performs in collaboration with other artists, develops new work, educates the future generation of musicians and composers, mentors younger performers and promotes community in Brooklyn where their studio is located and in Princeton where they teach and are the ensemble in residence. During the shutdown, Sō continued to develop new work.  In addition, it took its Sō Percussion Summer Institute teaching festival online and created a new online educational program, The Sō Percussion Collaborative Workshop. The ensemble also gave a series of live-streamed performances during the shutdown and converted its Brooklyn Bound concert series to an online program.

  • Opera Companies

And nimble opera companies like Chicago Opera Theater, OnSite Opera, Boston Lyric Opera and Opera Philadelphia continued to produce work and stay in front of audiences through live streams, new digital content and educational programs.

All of these organizations are coming back this season with exciting new programs that combine both live and digital events.

The 3 P’s of the Creative Success Mindset

The leaders of these organization possess a special kind of mindset.

  1. They remain positive and optimistic in the face of challenge and believe in their ability to succeed in tough times;
  2. They persevere through the challenges, learning from setbacks and constantly striving to improve; and
  3. They proactively look for opportunities to continue their work.

In other words, the “Three P’s” of the Creative Success Mindset:

  • Positivity
  • Perseverance
  • Proactivity

Let’s examine the mindset and see how it can propel success in the post-COVID world.


#1 Positivity and Flow

The first element of the Mindset of Creative Success is Positivity.

Positivity stems from doing things or having experiences that give rise to positive emotions. It’s at the heart of positive psychology: the study of what makes us happy and what we can do to foster greater happiness in our lives.

Research from positive psychology and neuroscience shows that when you are happy and optimistic and experience positive emotions, you are able to cultivate the kind of mindset and engage in behaviors that give rise to greater success and fulfillment. In other words, success flows from happiness. Leaders who embrace positivity are able to tap into the source of their creative energy, known as Flow.

Flow is the brainchild of psychologist Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi who studied what it took for people to be at their optimal level of performance. He defines Flow as the experience of intense focus and joy where your skill level meets the challenge at hand and you lose all track of time as you work towards achieving that higher level of challenge with the confidence that you can control the experience. Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience lays out his research. You can also watch his TED Talk to hear more about flow.

To discover and tap into your flow, please watch my TEDx Talk, Cracking the Code on Creativity: The Secret to Full-Blast Living.

With Flow comes the confidence that you can be your best self. In turn, that confidence generates inspired leadership, an essential quality for today’s arts leaders facing the post-COVID world.

#2 Perseverance and the Growth Mindset

One of the hallmarks of successful arts leaders is that they don’t give up! When faced with a challenge like the shuttering of the arts due to the pandemic, they instead experiment with new strategies.  They reach out to mentors and friends for guidance and new suggestions. And they learn to work smarter, not harder. This attitude stems from the growth mindset.

The growth mindset is the belief that your talent and intelligence are the starting points of success and that true success comes from taking risks, learning from mistakes, working hard with smart strategies and resiliently picking yourself up after your setbacks. In other words, you believe that you can grow and change with experience.

This is in contrast to the fixed mindset. This mindset is grounded in the belief that you are born with a certain amount of talent and intelligence and that you cannot change how talented or smart you are. As a result, you rely on talent to get ahead, you are afraid to make mistakes, you avoid taking risks and you perceive the need to do everything perfectly or else you are a failure.

The growth mindset comes to us from Dr. Carol Dweck, author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Dr. Dweck’s research confirms that those with the growth mindset are more resilient, more collaborative and ultimately more successful than people with a fixed mindset.

Think back to the early days of COVID. Many organizations, like the Metropolitan Opera and The New York Philharmonic, began streaming previously recorded performances for free. As more people began to access culture online, arts organizations like the ones discussed above experimented by creating new online programming.  They adapted and refined their content as they sought the best way to interact with their audiences. There was no quitting because these leaders were determined to continue presenting quality programs for audiences who were isolated, fearful and in need of inspiration. That’s how the growth mindset works: by constantly looking for ways to improve and learning from mistakes.

#3 Proactivity

The third element of the Mindset of Creative Success is Proactivity.

With this mindset, you look for opportunities to create your vision of success and take action to make that vision a reality. The proactive mindset means that you look for ways to influence your environment and situation.

The arts organizations that continued their work during the pandemic did not sit around and wait for the world to reopen. Instead, they made videos, taught online, ran their festivals remotely and kept offering content that resonated with audiences. By being proactive and creating new opportunities, they were able to keep in touch with audiences and deliver on the missions of their organizations.


Bottom Line for Arts Leaders in the Post-COVID World

Embracing the three-part mindset of positivity, perseverance and proactivity is crucial for success in the post-COVID world.

Leaders need to be positive as they rebuild for our audiences. They need to persevere as they figure out the best way to engage audiences and to deliver quality live performances together with retaining and growing the virtual audience. And leaders need to create the right programs for our brave new world, proactively looking for the right opportunities.

Next time: how to create the momentum to move forward by tapping into your Authenticity Set!