The Artist and The Scientist

Early into my officer career, I spent a several short periods based upon a naval ship as a team leader on large-scale engagement projects.

One particular period strikes me: my team and I (then numbering around 25) spent several periods up to 2 weeks at sea transiting between different countries, preparing to meet and engage with new international partners. This time was challenging for the young leaders — they would become skilful at keeping their teams engaged, enthusiastic and developing further.

For me, it was also a time to reflect on my 16-month development programme that trains civilians into Royal Marines officers.

Naturally, It got me thinking about becoming a good leader in my chosen field. Not just an effective leader — that implies you’re good effectuating other’s judgements even when you don’t necessarily believe in it. A good leader knows how and when to push back. And so I realised the artist and the scientist metaphor of duality:

The artist is your ability to be personable, warm, enthusiastic and create emotional connection — the most powerful component of leadership in my experience. You can be a person of authority yet if you lack the ability to emotionally connect with people — you’re just someone yelling orders out. I think of this as a subconscious effort stemming from the limbic brain. You can try to be charming and interested but this can feel insincere and false if you aren’t truly interested in connecting with people. To be a both good and effective leader; we need a little of this ability to create social distance, so that we can make the hard decisions and reassure our people that we have their best intentions at heart.

The scientist is your cognitive ability to grasp complex data, be objective and formulate the right bearing for travel. Through deep analysis and pattern spotting; your thinking brain (the pre-frontal cortex) determines what the team needs to do to be successful in the long term.

This requires a conscious effort to do (however we’re all partial to our unconscious bias so over/under reliance on certain data sets will inevitably occur). Understanding when our subconscious brain is taking over and ‘leading’ our thoughts is a skill in itself.

But what does this mean for us? For me, it means I need to invest time into both parts — but figuring out how much time to give to each development is the tricky part. Leaders are born and made; they spend their lives being influenced from a young age, making mistakes and learning so that they are equipped with all the necessary ‘shaped clubs’ in their golf bag.

Those with a lack of specialist clubs or over reliance on certain clubs, show up in all of our daily interactions. So I aim to develop a full golf bag to make me better leader.