Van Gogh, the self-developing genius

6 Things a Leader Can Learn from Van Gogh

By Andrea Szabados

Reprinted from International Coaching News

When was the last time you painted an honest self-portrait? Either with a brush, or in words, with pen, using the feedback received from others?

Recently I’ve visited the exhibition called “Van Gogh’s Dreams” in Budapest where the artist’s masterpieces come to life using 3D technology. Beside the brilliant paintings, as a personal development professional, I was enthusiastic to read the thoughts cited from the artist’s letters.

As promised by the exhibition’s promotion, I did experience a “new dimension” in Van Gogh’s art. However, for me it was not the canvases displayed in 3D; neither the refreshing of the colour shades and not even the accompanying sound effects. It was the human dimension that was outlined in the exhibition. It was fascinating to observe the amazing evolution Van Gogh’s art went through in barely a decade. Reading his sentences cited from his letters, I became more and more impressed by his perseverance, faith and stubborn self-development.I believe today’s leaders could take lessons from him.

Self-knowledge. He believed in the fact that there’s something he’s really talented at, and he was searching for what it could be. When he found it, he decided to realize himself in what he’s good at.Or, as we would put it today, he was building on his strengths. (Remember the great number of personality development methods offered.…) His self-knowledge was surely strengthened by the many self-portraits he painted. Again and again, he was looking into the mirror to discover his own feelings and features.

Ambition. He was eager to improve. He was never satisfied with his achievements but kept on going, driven by an internal force. He was experimenting continuously to become better and better.

Perseverance. He was practicing a lot. When he started to feel it might be painting that he was really good at then he decided to paint a lot. As much as he could.He even painted the same thing several times – from a slightly different aspect or in a different background. He made studies. And he kept on painting – to become better and better. And what was the outcome? He did improve. (Sadly, his performance wasn’t recognized –it’s widely known that none of his pieces was purchased in his entire life.)

Ambition to learn and professional humility.Vincent, as he signed his paintings, took every chance to learn. He was studying books, observing masters and learned from them. He worked together with them. He was dreaming of a colony of artists.

Creativity. He let himself be influenced by the things he saw in his environment and thereby he was shaping his own style. The vivid lights of the metropolis, the outlines of the Japanese woodcuts or the colours of the country – his unique and new artistic style consisted of such elements.He was seeking diversity in everything. He wasn’t content with habits or routine.He was playing. He generated ideas. “Ideas for work are coming to me in abundance… I’m going like a painting- locomotive” – he wrote in a letter to his brother.

Courage. Van Gogh boldly experimented with new techniques, colours, lights, shapes, lines and materials.He was not afraid of change. Whenever he found that his environment wasn’t appropriate for painting then he packed his things and moved to a new place. He was seeking his optimal working environment elsewhere.

Well ahead of his time, his sense of style features visionary skills that can enable today’s leaders become successful, too. If you are a leader, it is worth considering your own activities and trying to find the “tricks” or lessons you could learn from an inspiring artist.Good news if you feel you would not manage to do it alone: this is exactly a field where an executive coach can support you to become a better leader.

And, dear fellow coach, why not take some reprints of Van Gogh’s masterpieces with you to  your next leadership coaching session?

Source: iCN 5th edition – Leadership Coaching (pages 74-75)


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