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Leadership as an art: an enduring concept framed within contemporary leadership

Jay L. Caulfield (Management, Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA)
Felissa K. Lee (Management, Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA)
Bret A. Richards (Graduate School, Creighton University, Omaha, Nebraska, USA)

Leadership & Organization Development Journal

ISSN: 0143-7739

Article publication date: 8 April 2021

Issue publication date: 23 June 2021




The aim of this viewpoint paper is to refine the meaning of “leadership as an art” in the context of wicked (complex) social problems and in the realm of contemporary leadership research and practice.


In this paper we explore the meaning of “leadership as an art,” a concept often alluded to but rarely defined concretely. The authors examine the concept by comparing artistic and scientific knowledge paradigms, identifying descriptors of the “leadership as art” concept appearing in the literature and illustrating key attributes of the “leadership as art” concept with real-world examples.


Leadership as an art is conceptualized as empathetically engaging and normatively uniting people in a vision to promote the common good through collectively formulating an understanding of a complex social problem and its resolution that when courageously and creatively pursued has the potential to make an extraordinary contribution to humanity.

Social implications

The magnitude and complexity of social problems impact communities on a daily basis, making them worthy of attention. History has demonstrated that practicing leadership as an art from a normative power base has the potential of uniting diverse collectives in creatively resolving wicked social problems for the benefit of the common good.


Although leadership as an art has been discussed in the literature over several decades, the term has not been positioned explicitly within contemporary leadership in the context of resolving complex social problems within social networks.



The authors would like to acknowledge the reviewers for their excellent recommendations, which the authors believe strengthened their work.


Caulfield, J.L., Lee, F.K. and Richards, B.A. (2021), "Leadership as an art: an enduring concept framed within contemporary leadership", Leadership & Organization Development Journal, Vol. 42 No. 5, pp. 735-747.



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