The Art of Creative Leadership with Ceri Hand

Ceri Hand originally trained as an artist, she has extensive experience working with the arts and the culture sector at an executive level, and now coaches Creatives and Artists all over the world through her business, Artist Mentor. In this show you will learn from Ceri:

  • The parallels exist between the art world and big business
  • How difference makes a difference
  • Creative questions could unlock your business purpose
  • Why artists are good models for unlocking creativity in business.

Transcript:Thanks to Jermaine Pinto at JRP Transcribing for being our Partner. Contact Jermaine via LinkedIn or via his site JRP Transcribing Services

The Leadership Hacker News

Steve Rush: As the global pandemic became more and more serious. Companies learned a valuable lesson. The difference between success and failure could lay with creativity. People in creative industries have seen their work undervalued for decades. Artists, photographers, writers, and many more expected to work for exposure or to have their rates severely undercut, not really understanding the true innovation, true value their work could bring to the corporate world. And we saw creativity take a big spike during COVID-19 and during lockdown. As people searched for entertainment during their downtime. We saw creativity flourishing on social media, where people took their creative ideas to various different outlets to share their content. With nowhere to go and a limited amount of things to do the quarantine, just unveiled creativity, some may have never explored before.

If you’re an entrepreneur or a business leader, who’s been forced to rework their company structure due to COVID-19. The chances are that you’d have seen many of your colleagues having to work differently and unlock thinking. And without creativity that have been really difficult, your teams may be now facing challenges and then never seen before. And leaders and business owners are now being called to think differently about how they lead and run their businesses. And as a business leader, I’ve certainly been challenged to unlock creativity and thinking in a way that me and my teamwork. End or mid pandemic, whichever your worldview. Creativity is not only become highly valuable, but this is an opportunity to thrive versus survive. With the world facing soaring and employment rates. It’s not going to be hard to find somebody who fits your creative needs. Like businesses, individuals are scaring to find new ways to market themselves and highlight their skills. And let’s be clear, the pandemic is not going to solve any financial professional hardships for creators, at least right away. What people are realizing, however, is that creatives now have a higher value to play in their business. And what business owners need to realize is that there’s also a price that comes with that and they should be paid fairly and appropriately for their work that they do. A 2019 Duke study backs us up to in it. Research has found that people find it more acceptable for managers to ask for passionate workers, to work extra hours without pay, sacrifice, sleep, and family time and all of the other demanding tasks. Therefore, the less creative people don’t get asked. So, ask yourself this question, is that fair? Not only does it prevent more creative people from making a better living wage, it sends a message that creative work is not work.

And actually, the reason behind why so many brands are being successful compared to others, lays with their creative approach. So right now, creativity is King. If you want your brand to thrive in a post covid world, now’s a chance to invest in that creativity. That’s been the Leadership Hacker News. If you have any news, insight or information that you think our listeners would like to hear, please get in touch.

Start of Podcast

Steve Rush: Our special guest on today’s show is Ceri Hand. Cari is the founder of Artist Mentor, having previous lead senior director roles with a number of leading art galleries. Ceri now supports artists and creatives. Develop growth and thrive their business. Welcome to the show Ceri.

Ceri Hand: Good morning, Steve. Thanks so much for inviting me. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Steve Rush: Delighted to have you on the show. Now, when was it that you first noticed that you really got interested in art or the world of art?

Ceri Hand: I guess I was lucky to be raised by a family who were interested in lots of different things in life, but my father was a musician and a teacher. And so, I grew up with lots of creative people. But I guess as an only child, my imagination developed quite early on. So, I was always drawing and exploring ways to record what I was seeing, writing. And I think from a young age, when I was at school, I did things like start school magazine. When I moved schools, I ended up doing save the swans campaign where I made a box for people to kind of put in their Swaddled Festus tokens at the time. So, I guess creativity came naturally, but it was also encouraged as a way of expressing myself. And I think I never thought of it as a separate thing. It was just part of life.

Steve Rush: And I suspect for most people listening to that, they could probably resonate with it. Some people would say that they’re either creative or they’re not creative. And in your experience, is that something that you just have as an innate behaviour? Or cannot that be learn.

Ceri Hand: Well, I think that everybody is creative. I think that there are many different ways of doing that, but the imagination is very closely linked to memory. And so, I think that everybody has the potential from a young age, right the way through to old age, to enjoy playing and perceiving the world differently. And I think there are of course, ways of practicing and flexing that creative muscle. And I’m delighted that I’ve had chance to do that over my career, but I do work with senior leaders in businesses to harness their own innovation and creativity as well now. So, I think it’s just a latent thing that people need the confidence to tap into and find new ways of exploring and seeing things from new perspectives. So, I think everybody could enjoy the possibility of being creative themselves, but also learning the language of creativity so that they can access other people’s creativity and get real pleasure from it just as they would enjoy music. They can also learn and develop taste, if you like in visual arts, theatre, dance. There is loads of different forms of creativity that people unfortunately have been told is not for them for lots of different reasons. So yeah, I’m a big, big fan of bringing creativity to all elements of out life.

Steve Rush: One of the things I noticed, Ceri. As people get older, typically we almost lose that playfulness that is quite natural as a child. And as we grow up, we become a little bit more stiffer and we become a little bit more ordered and we almost unlearn and forget some of that natural play, natural creativity. What do you think causes that?

Ceri Hand: Fear? Sometimes as we get older, when responsibilities and obviously earning an income and having some of the stability elements in our life like a roof over our head, of course those things are all really important, but I think the idea of play often returns to people when they have kids themselves and they start seeing the world afresh through their eyes. I think the great thing that we can learn from creative people is that they stay curious. And I know a lot of business leaders understand the value of that now. And so are encouraging that senior leaders to be more curious. And we’re asking more curious questions and I guess that’s the key thing is that curiosity and learning from people who are not like ourselves is something that actually it’s a habit. And we just get out of the habit and sometimes just like when there’s a lot of people learning to go from the couch to 5k these days, you know, it’s just the idea that actually you might need to practice some of those skills. I think it’s something that people think is a habit that when they’ve got so many other things in their life, they think perhaps I don’t need to practice that anymore.

Steve Rush: Yeah.

Ceri Hand: But I think when they do try a little bit of creativity in their life, they realize how much joy and pleasure they get from it.

Steve Rush: It’s the one thing that keeps recurring in conversations I have with senior leaders actually. And then I always have a conversation about, when was the last time you practiced at being a great boss? When was the last time you practiced at being a great listener? And it is that habit-forming practice that by being thrown into the depths of being busy, we often don’t take a step back and practice doing those things and it’s the same would be any discipline, right?

Ceri Hand: That’s right, and I think actually practice taking risks is also something that is a great model from creatives that we could learn so much from. They have, what’s called a studio practice, so most artists or creative people have a system, if you like, or a habit that they’ve developed, whether it’s a space that they create, where they have a psychological safety and they fill it full of inspiring things and tools so that they can go in whatever the weather, whatever mood they’re in, they have that space where they know that they get into a zone of creativity. And it’s just the determination to keep showing up and keep practicing that creative muscle. But also, they push the boundaries of what they know. So, their most amazing thing about creative people is they’re curious about so many things like outside their own knowledge base. And I think that’s something that I would love to share with business leaders in actually bringing in congress things together, ends up having a much more beneficial results for a wider public. Finding ways of connecting a usual thing and revealing the connections and the possibilities in how we’re all connected is something that artists are brilliant at.

Steve Rush: And we’re seeing the benefits of that now through things like diversity and inclusion, which does a very similar thing. But I guess what you’re suggesting is almost taking it to another level, being more diverse in our thinking enough. Access to information, people, resources, right?

Ceri Hand: That’s right. I think, you know, a difference makes a difference, you know, so I think your team needs to reflect society and your audience. And I think that actually people are much braver and more curious than we give them credit for. So occasionally revealing processes and the kind of people behind the business, also in the same way that people are curious about how artists work and seeing inside their studios, it’s really, everybody really understands that content is king right now. And that people behind the content is the story. So, artists are incredible storytellers. So, there’s a lot for us to learn from how they weave and connect, what lies beneath language. Kind of sematic experience of life, if you like. So, a feast for the senses and a way of storytelling and bringing us in and through life in a more curious way.

Steve Rush: Definitely so. Now you’ve managed to combine both the entrepreneurial spirit and that creative, artistic flair and have led some seriously big programs and galleries during your time. How did you arrive at setting up the business that you lead now, which is Artist Mentor?

Ceri Hand: Well, I guess between a couple of roles. I decided I wanted to focus on the thing that I got the most pleasure from, but also where I thought that I could serve the biggest amount of people if you like. So, I think it was a 2014, I established Artist Mentor as a way of supporting artists at all stages of their careers and empowering them to realize their full potential, I guess, and achieve a greater impact. So, it started as a one to one coaching support and it’s partly supporting them to realize their own capabilities, but also feeding back on their practice. And that takes deep listening and deep focus in addressing some of the challenges they have, but also seeing the potential of the work and where they could go. And so that takes some knowledge, so I guess training as an artist myself gave me the opportunity to get inside an artist’s practice quite easily. So, I could see where they might be stuck. I can see where they might be holding themselves back or whether it’s the media, whether that’s the meaning and the content or the ideas. And I think my journey I’ve had quite a convoluted creative journey myself. So that idea of risk of pushing yourself beyond what you think you’re capable of is something that I have experience of and feeling the fear of doing anyway. And so, when I’m talking to artists, I really have deep empathy with just how difficult it is to communicate and to connect with another person through an unspoken way of communicating, but also, I guess, through my own successes and failures over the years. And the idea that you just keep showing up is something that I think I could bring to the table. So, in 2014, I mentored a lot of artists and then went back into working for the contemporary art society and Simon Lee Gallery. So, I had this experience of commissioning emerging and established artists for exhibitions, for the public realm, but also selling and showing their work and placing it with museum collections. So, this broad range of experience working with artists, but also really connecting their work to a much bigger audience, I think has given me a wealth of knowledge and also empathy that I could support artists and help them on their journey.

Steve Rush: That sounds great. So, from a leadership perspective, what do you see that the common themes are for those that are leading in the art and creative world versus those that are leading in maybe a more traditional business or can manufacturers, et cetera, what would be the common themes that are consistent between the leaders of those kinds of businesses?

Ceri Hand: I think us not just focusing on the big ship, whether that’s an institution or an organization, and really focusing on people first, whether that’s your audience or your teams and the experiential, I think is something that everybody is really understanding how important particularly post COVID. That’s connecting people with feelings and ideas and the imagination and a sensorial experience of their content, if you like is something that’s ringing through for many of us. I think also this idea of leadership being vital for every single member of your organization. I think coaching and supporting people become their best selves at work is something that’s really crucial. Communication and connecting on a deep level is something I think, in the arts and in business that people understand that harnessing the power of the individual makes a collective experience much stronger and true. And I think the idea that sizes and everything is also something that’s coming true for us, that we have lost sight of I guess, power being, having the biggest seat at the table is not necessarily the way to connect with people on a deep level. So, I think people be looking at scale and higher scale and retaining that deep connection with that customer or client or audience is going to be really vital moving forward.

Steve Rush: So, they’re all really consistent parallels almost, aren’t they? With whatever business you’re in, it kind of starts with that people cantered approach first. Because without people, we have no business. And at the end there is a customer buying a product of some kind and therefore the proposition and the product might change, but the process is still very similar. Isn’t it?

Ceri Hand: That’s right, and I think the “why” is important for all of us, you know, really connecting with the story behind the “why” and connecting individual stories, but also the diversity of stories and multiplicity of voices in society is more vital. So, giving a fluidity to your business and the potential for people to input feedback and to harness your audience knowledge and their experiences in life, I think is going to be really vital moving forward. So, it’s not a passive consumption of content anymore. Its really audience led, audience focused, and that we as leaders can learn so much for staying close to that relationship.

Steve Rush: Sure, and from a wide perspective for me, that’s another way of framing, purpose, almost the reason the why you do things, your purpose. Do you find that it becomes more natural for those that are artistic and creative to have purpose, or is again that just another misconception of how people in business perceive the world?

Ceri Hand: Yeah, I do think that creative people often have a number of key issues that they return to. Key questions and they are pretty good usually at connecting their personal experience with the way that they see and feel their way through the world. I guess the great thing about creatives is they’re not content and happy to stay with what they knew or know. They want to learn, and that thirst for knowledge is the thing that drives them. But there’s usually core questions that they keep returning to in their practice, and it grows over a period of time. They keep coming at those questions from a different way, whether they changed the medium, whether it’s video or painting one, they might still be asking the same questions, whether it’s from a feminist perspective or whether it’s about climate crisis, but usually interested in connecting with others. So, in those questions they’re asking and implicating themselves, and they’re also acknowledging their own strengths and weaknesses in their practice.

So, they’re self-aware, very self-critical, but also really hungry for change. And they accept and acknowledge the tools that they have and they keep trying to push themselves forward. So, I think that deep purpose, they can’t do anything other than being an artist. That’s, you know, that’s very often the case, but they are super entrepreneurial. So, they do have to fund and find other ways of motivating themselves to bring in income, to keep themselves moving. I think organizations that are full of creative people have a lot of sensitivity and entrepreneurial spirits at the heart. And I think that blend of mixing the sort of practical, and I guess the delivery and production side of things is where potential power is. I think for lots of organizations that I think if we always focus on production and delivery cycles, without constantly coming back to the “why” constantly coming back to, who’s this for? Why are we doing it? What difference is it going to make? Who’s it for? How is the world going to be better from why we’re doing this? Then I think then we’re just a self-serving loop that we’re existing with it.

Steve Rush: That’s really neat. So, you mentioned those questions. Are you able to share those little nuggets of self-reflection questions with us?

Ceri Hand: It’s, so different. I mean, I work with hundreds of artists from all over the world now, and I guess it could be as simple as relationships. For example, you know, somebody may be trying to interrogate power relationships and that could be systems and structures or ecosystems. It could be personal relationships. It could be a relationship between a mother and a son, but there’s something about the intimacy in a relationship and the complexities of language and communication between one individual and another. Lots of artists are interested in those kinds of ideas. There are lots of artists at the moment that are interested in the impact of technology on the body and the mind, and they are finding ways to explore the relationship between the analogy and digital, but also on our relationship with AI, for example, and how that such is shaping the way we relate to each other.

So, AI, as we know, is determining how we connect with each, but also the kinds of relationships we might connect with. So, it’s literally shaping our content that we ingest and digest every day. And so, a lot of artists are really testing the boundaries of what that technology can do and trying to find different ways of having a relationship with surveillance technology, for example. So, there’s lots of different obsessions for different artists. And so, there’s lots of different motivations, but I would say the commonalities are that they want to connect and have an emotional connection with somebody else and that they want to shift perception. So, for us all, not to just accept the world as is given to us, but to find our own version of the world and to explore all the highs, the lows, the beauty, the horror that is in the world around us, and to find the connecting threads with each other,

Steve Rush: You’ve already convinced me that there are far more parallels to the arts world than to the business world than I’d ever imagined already, and that’s really neat. So, thank you for that. If I’m a leader listening to this now, Ceri, and I’m thinking, yeah, I get all this and the need to create that emotional connection. I need to be more creative, but I have much more of a left-hand brain and therefore, you know, creativity, isn’t my thing. How would be the way that you would encourage them to start to unlock that?

Ceri Hand: I think, I would say think fun, not functional. So, artist studios are a good model for considering what do your team need to around them to be inspired, to be innovative, to push boundaries, to produce great work and to have deeper connections. So, it’s the physical environment is one thing, but also the psychological environment, you know, that everybody thinks differently and actually tapping into people’s creativity and the pleasure that comes from experimenting and exploring ideas together. So, I would say don’t keep doing what you’ve always done. You know, as leaders, we need to learn new skills, read, listen, explore diversify our interest and that’s definitely going to improve our leadership. But I also think bringing your team into relation with inspiring people outside of your business realm and organization, as often as you can. Really can help generate better results. The same as you know, whether it’s an arts organization, I would recommend that they bring in a waste management company or a scuba diving company. You know, I think there’s so much that we can learn from different organizations that are interest or interrogating difference in a completely different way to us. So, I would say that explore, don’t be afraid of risk taking outside of your comfort zone because only good things usually come from it.

Steve Rush: Okay, great stuff. And I think you said it earlier, difference creates difference.

Ceri Hand: That’s right.

Steve Rush: So, this is part of the show where you get to turn the leadership lens on you. So, you’ve been a leader in your own, right. Having led multiple projects, multiple businesses. So, this is where we get to find out what your top leadership hacks are. So, Ceri, what would be your top three leadership hacks?

Ceri Hand: Firstly, I’d say be your authentic self at work, because I think it helps create psychological safety with your team. And people need to show up as themselves and caring for your staff and the team on their terms. So, learn their idiosyncrasies  quickly and take responsibility for effective communication and a way for them to enable them to lean into their strengths. I would think talent, not jobs. So, see the leadership potential in everybody. Enable them to get there through support, coaching, regular positive feedback, clear examples of how their contribution and skills make a difference. So, I think they will blossom quicker. I’d take more beneficial risks, delivering a level they didn’t know they were capable of. So, I guess it’s investing in people and ideas in your organization and everybody from the engineering department to the marketing team, to the customer services team, I think all have fantastic ideas. And very often the senior leadership don’t spend enough time with people at different levels in the organization that are really connected to the audience and could contribute some brilliant ideas to develop.

Steve Rush: The principle of leadership as a behaviour is really key when it comes to unlocking talent because still people have this perception, that leadership is a job role and it’s not, it’s absolutely a behaviour as you beautifully articulated.

Ceri Hand: That’s right. And I see it in everybody, so it’s exciting when people discover it for themselves.

Steve Rush: It is, definitely is. So, the next part of the show is what we call Hack to Attack. So, this is time in our lives or our work where things may have not worked out as we’d anticipated. But as a result of that event, we’ve now got some learning and it’s positive in our life. What will be your Hack to Attack?

Ceri Hand: So I had a challenging year last year where I definitely overworked and I had quite a serious accident and it was debilitating for a number of weeks, but that time really helped me to reflect on my own processes, my working methodologies, my weaknesses, my strengths, but also gave me the opportunity to learn some new things outside of my own realm of experience. So, I was obsessive only listening to podcasts and was very happy to find your this year. And really taking the time to think about how I wanted to move forward and what impacts I wanted to have. Personally, not just at work, but in the world. And I think really reconnecting with my family, my loved ones and became clear that obviously I hadn’t spent as much time because I’ve been working 14-hour days, every day for pretty much a year straight.

And I guess when you have a near death accident it pulls things into sharp focus. And I think that that was one key thing, but also, I think that I have always been empowering as many people as possible. And staying, if you like in a senior level. Yes, so many people would say that I was visible, but I guess that idea of stepping into your own light, I think as corny as it sounds, I think I realized that actually very often I had hidden some of my personal viewpoints because I was always working on behalf of another organization. And perhaps that idea of articulating how you really thought we should move forward in life, I guess I’d been a little bit more reluctant to come forward with that because of working as part of an institution. So, I decided to leave my job as much as I love my colleagues at Somerset House.

It was one of the best jobs I ever had and I really loved everything we achieved there. It was an incredible time in my life and I learnt so much from everybody I worked with, but I think I realized that actually I’m more interested in the people than the big ship. I’m interested in enabling people to be their best selves, whether it’s at work or in their own creativity or as professionals. And I think that I hadn’t really understood deeply just how much I’ve learnt. I’ve worked really hard for 30 years, and I realized that actually I like the ignition moment. I like helping people to make magic happen. I like helping people to make things happen in the world, they hadn’t imagined. I could improve things for the people. So, I decided to leave my job and COVID happened. I was going to take another role, but I decided not to. And so I decided to set up Artist Mentor so I could try and help as many people as possible. And I think all of those things of bringing myself closer to an audience, whether that’s artists or creative professionals or people working in business. Since that moment, I’ve learnt so much from people all over the world that actually working in an institution and you become responsible for directing the big ship if you like. But actually, since April, I think I’ve worked with hundreds and hundreds of people and their stories, their bravery, their ability to make change and their commitment to keep showing up, to try and affect positive change has been really exciting and positive.

Steve Rush: That’s awesome. Ceri, there’s so much in there. And actually, I think one of the things that resonates with me as I was listening to you speak is that you’ve definitely found your “why” now. You have reconnected through that adversity to really understand your purpose.

Ceri Hand: Yes, it’s strange, isn’t it? I think it’s also about letting go and letting go of what you thought you wanted and letting go of what you thought was the path you should be on is also part of coming to terms with who you really should be. And sometimes we have to have something serious happening in our life to help us wake up and smell the coffee.

Steve Rush: You’re so right. You’re so right. The last bit for those that have listened to this before, they know the drill. We’re going to do some time travel with you Ceri. We’re going to ask you to go back into bump into your 21-year-old self and you now get a chance to give Ceri some advice. What’s your advice to her then?

Ceri Hand: Well, I’m very lucky to have had a consistent mentor and friend throughout my life called Paul Henry, who was a senior HR manager in the NHS and he and his wife, Jean were business partners actually, and supported the gallery that I used to run. And it’s a real Testament to a deep friendship that remained solid friends today, despite closing that business. But I’d say to myself, get some additional business mentors and coaches and particularly women to help me hone my entrepreneurial spirits and to put my skills and to enable a better relationship to money and income generation. I think a lot of people in the arts have a very complex relationship to money and income generation. And I think if you don’t grow up in a wealthy background or environments, that actually the idea that your creativity could help you to have an income generation that helps you to have a better, healthy, happy life is something that’s really important.

So, I could have learned a lot from different kinds of business mentor, I think. I’d also say I take up yoga and a sport, you love to help with balance and healthy body, healthy mind. I think again, a lot of creative people live in their heads and I certainly did. And I think sometimes I thought that I could think my way out of a problem. And I think that actually now that I do yoga, I go walking and I, I’ve committed to that, particularly since locked down. I’ve seen an incredible shift in what I’m able to deliver during the rest of the day. And lastly, I’d say, let yourself be more vulnerable with friends and with colleagues not to suffer in silence, but to let people know how you are and if you need to help.

Steve Rush: That’s great advice. And I certainly can think about the exercise and yoga. You have to have that outlet that is different to just what goes on inside your head. That balance is really key, isn’t it?

Ceri Hand: Absolutely, and I find since I’ve become fitter than actually, I’ve got better ideas. So, I wish I’d known that a lot younger.

Steve Rush: It does definitely improve cognition.

Ceri Hand: It does. It does.

Steve Rush: Yeah, it does. Doesn’t it?

Ceri Hand: Simple but effective.

Steve Rush: So, Ceri, for those that are listening to you today, thinking how they would like to connect with you, find out more about the work that you do, where is the best place for us to send them?

Ceri Hand: Firstly, to the websites, I’m also on LinkedIn and Instagram @CeriHand, that C-E-R-I-H-A-N-D and same for Twitter and yeah, I think those are the best, best options right now.

Steve Rush: And we’ll also put those in the show notes too. So, folks can go straight ahead and click and find you when we’re done talking.

Ceri Hand: That is brilliant. Thanks so much, Stephen. Thanks so much for the opportunity to chat today. I’ve really enjoyed it.

Steve Rush: Ceri it has been an absolute pleasure. Thanks for taking time out of your schedule to be on The Leadership Hacker Podcast. We wish you every success with Artist Mentor and whatever you do next.

Ceri Hand: Thanks so much, Steve.


Steve Rush: I genuinely want to say heartfelt thanks for taking time out of your day to listen in too. We do this in the service of helping others, and spreading the word of leadership. Without you listening in, there would be no show. So please subscribe now if you have not done so already. Share this podcast with your communities, network, and help us develop a community and a tribe of leadership hackers.

Finally, if you would like me to work with your senior team, your leadership community, keynote an event, or you would like to sponsor an episode. Please connect with us, by our social media. And you can do that by following and liking our pages on Twitter and Facebook our handler their @leadershiphacker. Instagram you can find us there @the_leadership_hacker and at YouTube, we are just Leadership Hacker, so that is me signing off. I am Steve Rush and I have been the leadership hacker

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