Business Columns & Blogs

Leaders must be more like artists, less like economists

Peggy Noonan speaks in 2015 at a Denver news conference held by a group against standardized testing in schools.
Peggy Noonan speaks in 2015 at a Denver news conference held by a group against standardized testing in schools. AP

I understand that in the olden days, when people read print newspapers, many readers had favorite columnists. I buy that idea and even now, I have a few that I look forward to reading — both online and in print — because of their ideas, their writing styles, or the way they rile me (in good and bad ways).

One of my favorites is a staunch Republican who writes for The Wall Street Journal and came to fame many years ago as a speechwriter for Ronald Reagan.

Peggy Noonan writes a column for the Saturday edition of the WSJ and, more times than not, it’s a kick to read. She clearly leans one direction, but she also tries to be fair to opposition politicians.

What I enjoy most is the way she conceptualizes an idea.

She had a zinger for me recently when she analyzed the Republican party leadership.

Let’s just say she’s disappointed. The GOP leadership today reminds her of an observation “that a great leader has more in common with an artist than an economist. Economists drill deep in narrow fields, but the artist’s view is more expansive; he’s more able to grasp the big picture and see how it is changing.”

She goes on to say the GOP leadership needs a “greater artistic sense” and maybe “they can put in for a grant from the NEA before it’s too late.”

That notion of thinking like an artist versus an economist is what grabbed me. Yes, we need people who can dig deeply into specific issues and problems (we have Nobel prizes for those folks), but in complex times with complex problems, leaders need to be able to see a larger landscape. So many challenges demand many perspectives, and that’s what artists do naturally.

An artist friend explained once that you should look at a painting from at least three perspectives: from 4 inches away, from 4 feet away and from 40 feet away. At each standpoint, the view is somewhat different, and together they make the whole piece and concept richer and clearer. That’s what we need in leaders, regardless of where they are.

So leaders, how are your artistic views?