Sep 112016 3 Responses

Unexpected Leadership: When Art Changes Attitudes

Good leadership is often unexpected. It comes in a form we do not anticipate. What many consider insignificant choices are actually the most necessary courses of action. To outsiders, the choices and decisions might seem pointless. But time proves their value.

Conversely, what others view as useful actions can prove to be pointless. While they might feel useful and constructive in the moment, time proves they don’t help and can actually hinder progress.

The Unexpected Project

My hometown, like many hometowns, has an old downtown. For years, people have whined about it, cursed it, and blamed others for very little happening to revitalize the former center of our city. At the same time some have been doing everything in their power to lure in new business, restore old buildings, and revitalize the cunexpected-3ommunity.

Last year a group of people launched a surprising idea: Art. They would draw attention, visitors, and energy to the downtown area by bringing in world-renowned artists to paint murals on the old buildings. When I first heard about Unexpected, I was unmoved. I didn’t think it was a bad idea, but I didn’t think it would make that big of a difference. For years people have talked about something needing to happen downtown, but very few things ever did. How would this be any different? (For more pictures, see G6M Productions.)

It was.

As the first murals were finished, pictures began to float around social media. Families were drawn downtown to see the artists in action. Restaurants were full. Sidewalks were busy. For a year, people have continued to look at the murals. Like any other art, some love it and others complain about it. But at least people are talking about it.

Year two just ended. Several more murals were completed. My favoriteunexpected-4 were two portraits of workers on the side of an old feed mill. For years people have seen that mill in two different lights. For workers, the tall white buildings were symbols of employment, production, and economic-development. To others they were an eye-sore. The buildings were old, the smell lingered, and they told people our better days might be behind us.

But something happened when the old white buildings were painted. They were humanized. Those who didn’t work there were reminded of many who do. We received a more complete story that a building is far more than just the materials that make it. A building is also a home to those who work there. (For more about The Unexpected, click here.)

Unexpected Leadership

The Unexpected project has taught me something about leadership.

Consider two groups:

The first is a vocal majority. They see a need and talk about. Something needs to be done and they let everyunexpected-2one know something should happen. They have plenty of opinions of who is to blame for things being bad and have some suggestions of who should make things better. They do nothing but complain.

The second is an unseen minority. They see a need, but instead of broadcasting that need to everyone, they get to work. They assemble a community of like-minded friends and brainstorm ideas. Then, they do something.

Of the two groups, those in the first group feel as though they are leading. There is a lot of talk. The problem is clearly defined. It’s made clear actions are needed.

Those in the second group may feel insignificant. Their small actions don’t compare to the big problem. One answer can never solve a complex issue and they know their one idea won’t fix everything. But it’s a start.

Of the two groups, the first feels like leadership, the second is leadership. While those who are talking about the problems feel as though they are leading, in many cases they are doing nothing but adding to the problems. To talk without acting simply furthers the desperation and apathy felt by others.

But to act in positive ways, no matter how small, is to lead.unexpected-1

For years, people have complained about the decline of the downtown in my hometown. While many have quietly worked to make it better, most have simply whined it wasn’t what it once was. Yet I never would have thought that art was one of the answers. Thankfully others knew the possibility.

Good leadership is often unexpected.


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