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Always So Much Still to Learn

Johannes Vermeer was a Dutch artist.  He lived in the 1600s.

I had opportunity to view some of his paintings this week. One of the works I got to see in person is “Woman Reading a Letter.” This painting is one I typically would have spent only a couple of moments in front of…and then moved on. Fortunately, however, I got to hear a lecture the day before that made me pause longer. I learned a bit about the way Vermeer brought light into a scene – and how it was common for him to include only portions of chairs in his paintings rather than entire chairs. I also learned a little about what it took to create the blue color of the woman’s jacket. Gaining just this small amount of insight made the painting so much more interesting to me. And, I found myself drawn to it at the museum in a much stronger way than I would have been otherwise.

Here are the leadership parallels that come to mind as I ponder my experience with art this week:

  1. Learning more about a work of art, or a person, can easily spark a more genuine interest in them. There are so many intriguing aspects of every person, so there are undoubtedly points of mutual interest to be found. If you are having trouble connecting with a member of your team, don’t give up.  Keep learning about them.
  2. Familiarity can create connection. I was surprised how connected I felt to the works I had learned about. When I spotted the pieces in the museum, I immediately went over to see them. It was kind of like seeing the face of a friend in the midst of strangers. Again, keep learning about your people. Continue strengthening the bond you have with each one.
  3. There is always so much more to learn. It is easy to recognize how much I do not know in the world of art. I am confident that even the extremely knowledgeable person I learned from this week also has so much more he can still learn. In the work we at Milestone Leadership do with our clients, we frequently utilize assessment tools. It is important to guard against thinking we have a person all figured out because of what we know about them through the lens of one of these tools. As I will now suggest a third time: keep learning about your people. In executive coaching engagements, I’m always eager to talk with a person about how their life experiences compare to what I might imagine, having studied their assessment reports.

Leaders worth following maintain a genuine curiosity about the people they lead – and are always eager to gain new insights and strengthen points of connection. There’s always so much still to learn.

Written by: Sandy Tush, Partner – Milestone Leadership

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