John Maeda: The New Tao of Leadership

Graphic Designer
In John Maeda’s experience as an artist–turned–President of the Rhode Island School of Design, the ideal leader falls somewhere in between Lao Tzu and Father Knows Best.
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TRANSCRIPT

John Maeda: I think that becoming the leader of a college and not just any college, a college that has had a 130 plus year history, great tradition, great classicism, great eclecticism as well has been a great challenge for me because I've learned that a leader has both frames.  A leader has to have the traditional frame and is sometimes afforded the creative frame.  Those times to be creative though are limited.  It's why if you go to CreativeLeadership.com I have a whole chart of traditional leader versus creative leader because they're two different leaders.  One leader leads by authority and position.  The other leads by inspiration and creativity.  One leader says they have all the answers.  One leader says I might have all the answers.  One leader says yes or no.  The other leader says maybe.  One leader says I know I'm right.  The other leader says I hope I'm right.  So those two leaders exist I think in everyone.  I as a person was born on the creative front and so I've had to learn how to be more authoritative as a leader.  I've had to learn how to balance the two frames and that's been a great challenge.

Most creative people tend to not want to lead because leading means—I mean creative people are always against the man and when they become the man it's quite awkward. People who are authoritative have difficulty leading creative people because creative people are kind of divergent.  They aren't good soldiers.  They diverge.  They wander too much.  So that rift is interesting from the follower's side, from the leader's side.  For those who are leading creatives and feel uncomfortable with that I think that the challenge is to be open, which is not normal for a formal leader to be open to risk.  How does that leader take that path?  That leader should really take off their suit maybe and kind of like try to be with the people, risk that because if they don't take the risk they will not see a reflexive outcome.  If you're a creative person who is unsure of how to lead authoritatively, doesn't want to be the man I would say gender aside they should woman up.  They should man up.  They have to realize their position.  It's not pleasant, but over time you realize it has to happen.  It's necessary. Can you be two people at one time?  Of course, I can be a father.  I can be a programmer.  I can be a painter.  We can do all these things.  So letting yourself be both I think is important frame. 


Directed / Produced byJonathan Fowler & Elizabeth Rodd