Business ManagementLeadership

What Graffiti Artists Can Teach Us About Leadership

By December 27, 2018 No Comments

Just two months ago in October 2018 the art world was turned upside down when Sotheby’s auctioned off a painting entitled The Girl and Balloon for $1.2 million dollars.  But as the gavel dropped with the winning bid something strange happened, the painting began to be shredded inside it’s frame. Although nobody saw him, they say Banksy was there. He was sending a message to the audience with the shredding of his $1.2 million dollar canvas.  Banksy the graffiti artist with incredible leadership influence.

Banksy, the mysterious graffiti artist, has become uber famous. For decades he has concealed his identity, traveled the world and painted beautiful graffiti in strategic places with well defined political or social messages.

His graffiti has captivated the masses and has driven the price of his original artwork from his early days where he earned poultry sums in the hundreds of dollars to today where he earns millions off a single painting.  His graffiti is so valuable that building owners on occasion cut the sides of their buildings that hold his art and sell them.

I am struck by the fact that Banksy clearly understands his vocational requirements and executes them at the highest level.  The same core elements that make a great graffiti artist great translate to being a great leader. What does Banksy know that all great entrepreneurs and leaders should focus on?  Leadership starts with these three elements:

Your Canvas – This is your audience, pick one!  Define who it is and who it is not.  In graffiti you can’t paint on every building, you know you have limited resources of time, paint and messages, and therefore one must be incredibly selective about where and when you paint.  Audience selection proceeds message selection.

Your Message – Great graffiti artists visualize what they want to paint prior to picking up a paint brush.  In fact, that visualization can be incredibly detailed and time consuming in nature because the message needs great depth to change the perspective of the audience.  Simply look at Banksy’s work and you will be captivated.

Your Style – We know that the world doesn’t need another version of someone else’s style. A copy is never as good as the original.  Furthermore, we don’t need a homogenized version of 10 other styles as you take miscellaneous parts and try to bolt them together.  The world needs the best version of your inspired style that’s possible. You are one of one.

A graffiti artist simply cannot be one without selecting a building to paint on, predetermining messaging, and then getting to work painting with his or her artistic flair.  Therefore, you cannot be a graffiti artist unless you paint graffiti. Often, we call ourselves leaders but simply aren’t leading (or leading well).

The issue is that we often get sucked into running the organization rather than leading it.  If you have not reflected on these three core elements in the past two weeks, it is an indication you have lost touch with effective leadership and you are probably not leading well.  Identify your canvas, craft a message, pick up the paint brush and communicate with your God given unique style to the best of your ability. Your audience is waiting.