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Michelangelo and Leadership

I am grateful that I have the opportunity to do a little travel every once in a while and even more grateful that I can do that with friends. Today, I am in Rome about to go visit the Vatican City. On the tour we will see the Sistine Chapel where Michelangelo painted his famous fresco on the ceiling. I am no art history major, in fact, up until this trip, I found it quite boring. Earlier this week, we went to Florence primarily to see the statue of David because that’s one of the things you are supposed to do, right?

Well, did that ever change things! To further illustrate my ignorance of or disinterest in art, I had no idea until very late in the tour that the statue of David is depicting the “David and Goliath” David from the Bible…who knew! But the point I want to make from that is that as we were looking at the statue from all sides, not just the view we all have seen, I noticed while looking at his face that you could actually see emotion there. It was a mix of trepidation and determination that I saw. Thankfully I am not afraid to blurt things out in front of my friends so I commented to our guide about what I was seeing and she said “Of course, he is about to face the Goliath!” (that’s when I found out who the statue represents).

Let’s go back a few years. Did you know that Michelangelo was the fourth sculptor to take on the task? The statue was started in 1464 and he finished it in 1504 (at the age of 29, by the way). As the others were working on the statue they came to the conclusion that the marble was inferior or for various reasons was not up to the task at hand. In truth, the marble does show some veining. The “best” marble had no veining or “imperfection” and was used to sculpt the leaders and important statues of the time.

But Michelangelo was undeterred. He took that imperfect marble, rejected by three masters, and turned it into one of the most famous sculptures in history. When asked about it, he said, I did not create the sculpture, I just let him out of the marble. I cut away the parts that hid the beauty.

That may seem silly or trite, but to me, that statement is profound. Others had rejected the task as it was too hard to create a worthy statue, but Michelangelo was able to use the flaws in the marble to show musculature and expression that is recognizable in chunk of rock. Amazing. So if you take his idea that within an object there is art that just needs to be freed and apply that to the people you lead, it gives a whole new perspective to how we might approach our coaching and mentorship.

Can you find the art within your staff and then chip away the elements that prevent them from shining through?

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