Effective leaders adeptly utilize parallel skill competencies to draw optimum performance from their teams – those considered SCIENCE and others considered ART. The SCIENCE of leadership consists of employee productivity principles ground in theory and evidence-based data. If you attended higher education, leadership principles were bolded on your course syllabi, then practiced in case-study assignments, their application innovatively resulting in a neat and tidy virtual sales jump or new business catch or the like.

But real life is rarely so simple because the interplay of human dynamics can trump theory to determine the tone of any business process. Said differently, without the capacity to read people the most theoretically grounded action plan will be but a wasted file on your computer desktop.

Enter the ART of leadership. The ability to read people comes from understanding the spectrum of human emotion, and the ART of leadership is using this knowledge to inspire an employee’s optimum productivity. Since no two employees are the same, the knack of the art of leadership is responding to employees according to their emotional uniqueness. This means knowing their triggers and degree of readiness for challenge, and when to push or nurture.

So how can you learn to read people? Attend workshops and/or compile infographics of your employees?

Conferences, seminars, extended education classes, etc. offer insight, but insight skewed toward SCIENCE competencies since the perspective of the content tends to be grounded in theory. As well, knowing likes and dislikes, pet peeves, personal habits, hobbies can be interesting, but its usefulness is limited because the result is a static compilation of demographics — and business operations are anything but static.

Net/net, learning about the theory of the ART aspect of leadership isn’t the same as gaining an understanding of how to read people. Instead, you need to immerse yourself into a context where the gamete of emotion that is part and parcel to human performance is its prominent feature, where you can experience it at its organic base.

Do yourself the best professional development favor you can – play sports!

Excitement, anticipation, frustration, elation, disappointment – and this is just during warm-ups. Competition evokes emotion from being ‘on the line’ to deliver results and dealing with unpredictable outcomes – no one knows what is going to transpire over the course of a game, any more than one can predict what might transpire during a conference call to pitch a campaign.

A three-foot putt to win a match, serving to win the final point of a set, on the free throw line to win the game, a groundball that will either deliver the final put-out or allow the other team to score to win. These are all emotionally-charged situations that can’t be artificially replicated other than to experience them as they occur, both as the one who’s on the line and as another waiting on the outcome.

Learning how to respond to what you see in people’s eyes as they experience performance ups and downs is invaluable insight that becomes your ART skill set. Knowing when to encourage, support, hug, push, ride, or leave well enough alone – it can become intuitive but only after practice. The more you see and feel organic responses to performance outcomes the more you understand what emotion looks and tastes like, and appreciate its powerful influence on motivation.

Effective leadership requires knowing theory and knowing people, or rather knowing people and knowing theory. After all, theories don’t have emotions, people do, and its people who drive business.