Mastering the art of leadership

Brent Crowe builds leaders.  He creates leaders of leaders.  He turns high school students into leaders.  As Vice President of Student Leadership University (SLU), he has mastered making leaders.  I have been in rooms with some very talented leaders throughout my lifetime, but I’m in awe of the high number of high-quality leaders SLU creates each year. 

Brent shared a piece of advice with me in a recent conversation that will stick with me for a long time. His leadership advice is straightforward… and very profound. Stay with me to the end of this article to hear his short, simple, but significant leadership advice.

Brent and I met while sitting across the table from one another in a Ph.D. leadership seminar. It was a little awkward for both of us since we sat there staring across the table at one another for an entire morning. Only on break did we both recognize that we had heard each other’s name for years but had never been in the same room together at the same time.

During the next several years, I got to see the high academic integrity that Brent brings to developing leaders. However, I also saw Brent in his “native environment” at SLU as he forges high school students into our nation’s future leaders.

The Science of Leadership

Leadership is both an art and a science. There are textbooks that you should read if you want to become a better leader.  Some leadership principles are transferable to all situations. The best leaders continue to learn and grow by reading the relevant material throughout their lifetime.

The science aspect of leadership is all about following the rules. I have a running list of my top 100 books on leadership that I regularly modify.  Reading some or all of these books will help anyone improve as a leader. 

Brent and his family took leadership to a whole new level when they decided to adopt. After he and his wife already had three children, they wanted to share their family with another child. When Child Protective Services called and asked them to be willing to open their home to three siblings temporarily, it was a huge ask. 

Brent and Cristina opened their home and their hearts and eventually adopted these three children into their family. Imagine the leadership challenges of doubling your family’s size in one day! 

The Leadership Artist

Anyone can learn the rigid scientific principles of leadership. It takes some education and practice, but any student can pick up on them. The art of leadership, however, is entirely different.

The art of leadership is all about mastering soft skills. Unfortunately, leadership has so many nuances that it’s impossible to define the art of leadership in a textbook.

People are inherently different from one another. When added to the existing challenges of the nuances of changing situations and leadership, human individuality becomes an art that few people can master.  The greatest leaders I know have spent a lifetime working on their own skills as a leader so that they can master the art of leadership.  

Making a Masterpiece

You can tell an artist who has mastered leadership skills during difficult times. It was fascinating to see how Brent led SLU through the challenges of COVID.  His organization had been built around large in-person events. COVID forced them to radically re-look at how they delivered content and built leaders.

Brent used the challenge of COVID to look at SLU from a completely different angle. In doing so, he turned a beautiful painting into a masterpiece.

Few people would be able to adapt to the radical changes of doubling your family size overnight. Few leaders have the skills to face the chaos of COVID and come out much stronger on the other side. During my most recent interview with my friend Brent, I couldn’t help but wonder what makes this leader so successful.

Brent summarized the answer to that question in six simple words…“Choose love and do your best!” 

You might not have 10,000 students looking up to you every year for leadership like Brent Crowe.  You may never face the family or financial challenges Brent met during COVID. However, you can learn from Brent’s brilliant advice. Brent challenged SLU to “choose love,” even if that meant giving back most of their operational budget that didn’t have to be returned in the middle of COVID. His courageous financial decision created loyalty and helped grow the SLU when other organizations went bankrupt.

Listen to the whole interview with Brent HERE.

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