13 Ways of Looking at Creativity

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In the downtown studios of the Houston Ballet, young dancers spend their days leaping and stretching, bending and spinning. In the ballet’s professional training program, they learn to discipline their bodies to speak the graceful language of dance. Soon the dancers, ages 14–19, will have another muscle to train: They’ll receive lessons in leadership in collaboration with the Doerr Institute for New Leaders at Rice. 

But what does leadership have to do with the elegant agility of dance? Everything, if you ask Tom Kolditz, the institute’s founding director. “The arts, to me, are really in need of enhanced leadership,” he said, and that’s because creativity and leadership are often put in separate silos.

Jim Nelson, executive director of the Houston Ballet, met with Kolditz last year and learned about the Doerr Institute. “It got me thinking: How fantastic would that be, if we at Houston Ballet could expose our younger dancers in the professional track of our school to leadership training, so we are also playing a role in developing the dance leaders of the next generation?”

The dancers will likely receive training much like what’s provided for Rice students: one-on-one or group coaching to help the dancers improve their personal effectiveness, from resolving conflicts to inspiring others.

“Most people in leadership roles in the arts got there by being good artists, not good leaders,” Kolditz said. Society encourages people who excel in creative fields — dance, music, writing, the visual arts — to be independent and somewhat solitary. When they’re faced with leading a group or an organization, they often don’t have the background they need.   

While it’s important for artists to have leadership skills, it’s just as important for leaders to have expressive, artistic skills, Kolditz said. Good leaders can see beyond the day to day and develop a vision for the future. 

“Creating a vision is an important leader ability, and it’s very artistic,” he said. Like those young dancers in Houston, leaders have discipline, flexibility and a sense of the extraordinary — and they can inspire others to help them make it come alive. 

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