Leadership For Arts Entrepreneurs: 4 Key Elements of Your Leadership Style

In my last post, I dissected the lessons of leadership from Itay Talgam’s TED Talk on conducting and leadership and Marin Alsop’s interview at Yale, and highlighted 4 key elements of a leadership style:

  1. Be Yourself
  2. Find a Mentor
  3. Learn from Failure
  4. Create a Relationship of Mutual Respect

These lessons  provided the backdrop for a call that I recently led with the members of Opera America’s 2017 Opera America Leadership Intensive cohort on how to find one’s authentic leadership style.  The members of this cohort are mid-career opera managers who aspire to hold major leadership positions in the opera world, and thanks to a generous grant from American Express, attend a week-long intensive training program to learn the skills needed to lead opera companies in the 21st Century. I have the privilege of working with this group on personal leadership skills during the intensive, as well as in subsequent calls.  The topic under discussion in our last call was leadership styles.   Let’s examine how each of the four factors plays into creating an authentic leadership style.

1. Be Yourself

In my sessions with the Leadership Intensive cohort, we focus on how to be an authentic leader.

The Authentic Leader is a person with the courage to embody his or her deep-seated values, who knows and uses best talents and strengths and taps into passions in the service of a greater vision in order to inspire others, with optimism, integrity, passion and purpose, to follow his or her lead.  Defining yourself as an authentic leader involves:

  • Aligning with your values
  • Playing to your strengths
  • Living your passions

Knowing these three elements then leads to finding your life purpose, whereby you know put your top talents and strengths to work in order to make the world a better place.  

The members of this Leadership Intensive cohort are whole-heartedly committed to being authentic leaders and have done the necessary legwork to discussing authentic leadership styles. Let’s see what they said about how to develop an authentic style as a leader.

2. Learn from Failure and Mistakes

Becoming a leader involves having the courage to try things out and see how they work out.  This may feel risky since making mistakes is hard for high achievers!  One strategy that many of our Leadership Intensive participants have used is to create projects where you test out an approach to see how well it works.  It helps to communicate what you are doing with your staff and collaborators  and invite them to join in the experiment. This approach has a dual advantage. Not only does it deepen the learning curve for both you and your organization but it also helps you define the situations in which you thrive, as well as those that continue to challenge you and require more work.

Another way that members of our cohort have developed a style of leading is by observing leaders whom they admire and adapting that approach to make that style their own.  Similarly, it helps to pay attention to leaders who are not effective and then look for ways to avoid similar mistakes.

As our Leadership Intensive participants, reported, by experimenting with different approaches and learning what works for you, you are putting your own stamp on your leadership experience and thereby defining your authentic leadership style.

3. Work with a Mentor

Becoming a leader takes both talent and hard work!  Many of the Leadership Intensive participants were lucky to have mentors to guide them on the path.  Not only do mentors provide advice and guidance but they can also provide feedback to help you learn from mistakes. Indeed, when you try out different scenarios, be sure to solicit the feedback from your mentor on what’s working and what needs to be improved.

4. Foster Mutual Respect and Collaboration

Finally, each member of our cohort shared their own leadership style.  Each person was committed to collaborative style based on mutual respect.  Here’s what they reported:

  • Have the courage to be yourself
  • Take the long view, communicate your vision and get others on board with your vision
  • Empower other people’s stories
  • Trust your team
  • Inspire others to do their best
  • Know your audience and listen carefully
  • Use the Socratic method and ask lots of questions
  • Be of service
  • Look for consensus and find the common ground
  • Be patient
  • Make space for diverse ideas
  • Leverage other people’s strengths
  • Build consensus
  • Give space to others
  • Find the common ground
  • Use my strengths and coach others to success
  • Be the voice of reason
  • Use diplomacy and harmony when things heat up.


As you see, these leadership styles blend:

  • Authenticity;
  • Great relationships;
  • Visionary thinking; and
  • Effective communication

You can apply these lessons to your own leadership style.  Have the courage to be yourself, try things out, learn from failure, check-in with your mentors and strive to collaborate and foster an environment of mutual respect. Now that’s authentic leadership!