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John Clinton  is the CEO of public relations firm Edelman Canada.
John Clinton  is the CEO of public relations firm Edelman Canada.

LEADERSHIP LAB

How being a sculptor shapes my approach as a CEO Add to ...

This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab

For nearly a quarter of a century, I have been a president or chief executive officer, running companies for longer than anything else I’ve ever done, except for one thing: For the past 36 years, I’ve been an exhibiting artist.

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While I’m not sure how much being a CEO has helped my art, I’m certain that being an artist has had a greater impact on my work as a CEO than almost any other single thing in my life.

I am a sculptor. I sculpt in wood, papier-mâché, and stone, but mostly I sculpt in bronze. I prefer bronze because of its permanence. It will survive me. (Here’s a piece Marketing Magazine wrote about Mr. Clinton and his artwork.)

As a leader, I have always run communications businesses, including ad agencies, publishing organizations, and public relations firms. Being an artist has helped earn me the respect of creative people – the very people that drive these businesses. No one can accuse me of not understanding the “creative” aspect of the industry. But it goes further than that, making a more significant difference in other critical, less obvious ways.

1. Empathy matters

It makes me empathetic to what people go through during the creative process. It’s about baring your soul and opening yourself up to criticism – something most of us avoid at all costs. In any field that relies on creativity or innovation, that’s exactly what we’re asking people to do every single day.

2. Vulnerability is a strength

A few years ago, before a solo show, my creative director could see how nervous I was, saying “You know what you’re about to do, don’t you? You’re essentially stark naked, walking into a room full of people and asking them what they think.” That thought has made any big pitch, any high-pressure meeting seem tame by comparison. Remembering that always keeps me calm.

3. Diverse viewpoints are invaluable

As an artist, I have been exposed to the art world and the wonderful people who inhabit it, from peers and collectors to critics and dealers. So many of them view the world differently, and should be approached accordingly. They are often radically different from the people I work with, my neighbours, and others I run into on a daily basis, and their diverse viewpoints directly inform my work. Like art, insight is all about perspective, and the more inputs you have into the work you’re doing, the better your chances at finding a great insight.

While my art has proven vital to my professional life, it does so much more for my soul, letting me retreat into my own world and be judged, not on the success of a meeting or a campaign, but for what came from my head, my heart, and my hands. And all of that defines me as a CEO.

John Clinton (@johnclinton122) is the CEO of public relations firm Edelman Canada (@EdelmanTO).

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