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Developing Business Leadership through Art and Creativity – Jeanette Cowley

Looking for Inspiration

Leaders looking for inspiration, ways to accelerate success and how to achieve more in collaboration with diverse teams will benefit from using art in business.

Based on detailed research, this creative approach involves slowing down in order to gain insight into complex issues, purpose and priorities.

Harnessing the power of art in business does not require an artistic background or understanding of colour palette. It is a way to unleash the creative mind, explore motivation and plan for the future.

Why art in business?

Art can speak with a voice so subtle it might take you by surprise and, yet, if you stick with it you can start to understand yourself better and resolve the most complex issues. Using art in business is a process that engages the head, heart and gut, unleashing the creative mind and spirit.

Working with art in this way enables clients to decide if, how and when to move forward.

Linking abstract art to leadership and decision making

Have you ever noticed how the sky looks different when you are not standing on the shore?

Art can liberate thoughts and feelings: a way to stimulate ideas, tap into intrinsic motivation and look at an issue from a different perspective.

Art can provide access into all of the senses, transcend language and help people dig deep and,with abstract art, each person gets to choose how they see, think and experience an image in the world.

The connection of art and leadership is about moving from the abstract to the tangible: decision making for the individual, group or the wider system.

The role of the coach is to create an environment that encourages this sort of exploration before the client decides if, how and when to move forward.

My lightbulb moment

My lightbulb moment came at a time when I began to paint abstract art, research how senior leaders sustain momentum and later how art can help unleash the creative mind.

Some years ago, I was in a meeting with a client discussing a complex deal: I was the coach.

By sheer chance, a few of my smaller paintings had made their way into my briefcase. We worked with these abstract paintings to create a strategic plan.

The idea of Voicing Possibilities Art Based Coaching Cards was born.

It took a further two years of research to take that experience and turn it into a resource for coaches, mediators and consultants to use.

Using Art based Coaching Cards 

The best way to demonstrate this is to share a real life example.

This particular team was made up of nine senior leaders from seven different countries. The CEO had decided to take his team on an off-site meeting as the team needed to discuss a major piece of work which required co-operation across the company.

The coach had a conversation with each member of the team before the off-site. These calls uncovered a range of competing agendas, variable levels of commitment, issues of trust along with anxiety about the off-site.

On this occasion, Voicing Possibilities Art Based Coaching Cards were introduced by the coach at the very start of the meeting.

After initial introductions, the team was invited to look at the cards spread around the middle of the table. The cards were introduced in a low-key and yet focused way. The words used were something like:

  • I wonder if one of these cards represents how you are with regard to the issue you want to address at this off-site.
  • If you notice a card that resonates with you for any reason then do pick it up.
  • When you each have a card, if the inclination takes you, I’ll ask each person to say something about the image as it relates to today.
  • It might also be interesting to pay attention to your energy level at this time.
  • We won’t be debating each person’s choice. This is simply a process to start us thinking about where we are in relation to where we might be going.


Each person chose a card even though there was a little bit of shuffling, hesitation and one person asking for clarification. The clarification given was: if there is an image that represents where you are, how you feel, or your current thoughts about the project, you might want to pick it up.

When each person had a card, one person indicated she wanted to speak. That person looked at the card constantly as she explained her reservations about what she thought was at the heart of the project.

She also posed a number of questions. Each person in the group decided to share thoughts and feelings to a greater or lesser extent.

At one point the group started to discuss the comments of a particular member of the team. When this happened, the CEO reminded the team this session was all about sharing and listening.

Overall, this exercise using art took just under an hour and proved to be an important session in the life of the group. The session clarified areas of understanding about the task, both at the individual and group level. The process also started to build commitment towards moving forward.

 Leadership is in many respects about embracing creative ways to explore current issues and possibilities, establishing frameworks to capitalise on difference. Why not take your thoughts for a walk and consider how you might engage with abstract art to understand what is important to you, your peers, clients or organisation.

Jeanette Cowley is all about Voicing Possibilities: a successful business woman, mediator, and coach who pioneers the use of art in business, alongside other methodologies, to unleash the creative mind, accelerate success and deepen self-awareness. Jeanette helps leaders create the space they need to explore long-term ambitions, legacy, contribution and purpose.

Jeanette has many years of commercial experience, culminating in the role of Group HR Director for a FTSE 100 business. Jeanette is a mediator, coach, artist and negotiator who allocates at least 20% of her time each year to study and research. Her current research into how senior executives sustain momentum, builds on work she carried out at Henley Business School. Jeanette is the creator of Voicing Possibilities Art Based Coaching Cards and other resources used by meditators, coaches and consultants to help clients decide if, how and when to move forward. VP Cards are available on the Go For Growth website. For more information contact: