What the Last Supper taught me about leadership (Guest Post)

By January 2, 2012Culture, Leadership

This is a guest post by Jeremy Statton. He is an orthopedic surgeon who writes about Living Better Stories. You can follow him on twitter or download a free copy of his eBook Grace Is.

What the Last Supper taught me about leadership:

One of the most rewarding experiences of my life was viewing Leonardo DaVinci’s masterpiece The Last Supper in person.

Everyone knows the painting. The image is ingrained on our minds. The scene of Jesus announcing to the twelve that Judas would betray him is a classic work of art.

Perhaps as you read these first words, you could recall having seen it most likely as either a reprint or digital image on the internet. But I have to tell you, seeing a copy does not compare to seeing the real thing.

“So what?” you ask. How is it better to see the actual painting? Why should I go to all of the trouble of a real experience when a digital one works? Wouldn’t the time, effort, and energy be wasted?

You may have seen the painting, but you did not experience it like I did.

There are many advantages to a digital age. We can connect and share information at higher volumes and faster speeds than ever before. At times it seems the world is at our finger tips.

One of the potential problems, though, is that we may become to willing to trade artificial experiences for fake ones.

-Instead of relationships we develop Facebook friends and Twitter followers.

-Instead of living our own stories we are willing to watch them through instant online streaming.

-Instead of communities we build mailing lists.

If we forget to have true experiences, our ability to lead will diminish since our goal is to lead real people to live better stories so they can have a greater influence.

Here are 4 ways that experience of actually seeing the painting was superior to the artificial experience of seeing a copy.

Cost. Cheap experiences are likely to have less impact. It costs next to nothing to view the painting on the internet. To actually see the real art you have to first buy a plane ticket, and then endure the 14 hour trip to Milan. Hotels are rarely cheap. To protect the painting, opportunities to see it are limited which means tickets can be expensive. Did I mention the unfavorable exchange rate? When it costs that much, you will appreciate it more and soak up every possible experience from it.

Clarity. Artificial experiences distort true reality. It is the difference between hearing the true sound of a violin and listening to it in your car. By seeing the painting in person, you can understand its true size. (It is enormous.) You can appreciate its actual color, not just a distorted copy. You can compare it to a very good painting on the opposite wall, making it easier to value DaVinci’s genius. True experiences are more likely to speak to your soul.

Context. The painting is located on the wall of a small, old monastery in Milan. Seeing the building protects this art work helps to imagine DaVinci walking up to it and laboring inside for 3 straight years. Once you get in you realize how fragile the painting is. It was nearly destroyed in World War II. There is still evidence of that conflict. It is now protected by multiple sealed vaults. Seeing the painting in its context helps to understand its true value.

Culture. One of the best parts of seeing the painting in Italy is that you have to travel to Italy. What can be better than seeing the painting? Enjoying a cappuccino and gelato just a few yards from the main plaza and the enormous cathedral that sits in the center of town immediately afterwards. Now when I see a copy of the painting, I remember experiencing the city as well. Seeing it in person helps to appreciate the culture behind it.

If we are to be effective leaders, we need to make an effort to have real experiences. Ones that will open us to new ideas. Ones that will cause us to question our world. Ones that will help us to have a greater influence on others.

Do you think the digital age is affecting our sense of reality? What “real” experience has impacted your leadership?

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Ron Edmondson

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