Katz-Buinincontro, J. (2005). Does arts-based learning enhance leadership? Case studies of creativity-oriented executive institutes. Paper presented at American Education Research Association Annual Meeting, Montréal, Canada.


This qualitative case study examines how arts-based executive leadership training institutes foster creative thinking and leadership capacities. The researcher studied three such institutes as a participant observer and interviewed thirty-two institute faculty members. The institutes’ curricula centered on arts-based activities (improvisational theatre, drawing, and music) but proficiency in the arts was not an outcome goal. The study finds that learning through arts-based activities can be a valuable means of leadership development and describes themes across the institutes in how faculty fostered creative thinking and leadership through arts-based training activities.

Key Findings:

The researcher developed a model for creative leadership development based on three themes that emerged from the data: navigation, challenge, and transformation. Navigation refers to navigating or managing problems related to being a leader, such as power, organizational culture, and training. Confronting asks participants to challenge or confront themselves and their thinking. This was accomplished through improvisational teaching methods, learning through the arts, and attempts to bridge the personal and professional. Transformation focuses on developing intrapersonal competencies (e.g., knowledge and skills to perform a job) and interpersonal competencies (e.g., promoting group processes and organization change).

Faculty members detailed how problems with their respective institutes’ leadership, organization, and educational formats were navigated to foster creativity; how the institutes’ participants confronted the self through the arts, experiential pedagogy, and bridging the personal and the professional realms of the participants’ lives; and transforming participants into more creative leaders centered on thinking in newly learned creative ways to enhance teamwork and organizational learning. Overall, the most significant finding spoke to how the institutes’ faculty members drew upon the arts (improvisational theatre, drawing, and music) to develop creative leaders and reinforce key curricular concepts.

Significance of the Findings:

Findings suggest that arts-based activities can be effective as a vehicle for showcasing, enhancing, and/or stimulating creativity in executive leaders. The rich description of the researcher’s three cases points to qualities of arts-based leadership activities that may be responsible for fostering creative leadership, which future practice and research might fruitfully build upon.

Without follow-up and continued observation of and reporting from the institutes’ participants (data not gathered in this study) it is not possible to know whether the institutes’ arts-based leadership activities actually brought forth increased creativity in participants’ leadership upon return to their workplaces. Future research might examine this piece of the puzzle and evaluate the researcher’s hope that arts-based executive leadership training can contribute to the reform of public education by equipping administrators with capacities for enhanced creative leadership.


This study situates itself within two methodological approaches- case study and grounded theory. The researcher attended three executive leadership institutes (case study sites) during 2004, documenting each over a period of five days as a participant observer. Tools for data collection included face-to-face, in-depth interviews with the institute’s designers and faculty members, observations of the content and process of the institute’s sessions, and secondary data analysis of the various institutes’ curricular materials. The researcher conducted a total of 32 interviews with the various institutes’ directors, faculty, and artists; each following a semi-structured, open-ended interview protocol. The researcher transcribed and coded all data, and supervised additional coding conducted by trained research assistants using the constant comparative method of data analysis with the intent to uncover emergent themes in each case and for cross-case comparison.

Limitations of the Research:

This study primarily gathers data on the strategies institute faculty used to foster creative leadership focusing on faculty interviews and observation data. The study could have been strengthened if the researcher also collected data directly from participants on their experiences in the institutes and on if and how the institutes achieved their goals. The researchers’ data are specific to the three cases studies. More research is needed to determine whether the researcher’s findings would relate to other cases.

Questions to Guide New Research:

Do arts-based executive leadership institute participants make long-term gains in creative leadership? What type of arts-based education activities benefit adult learners most? How might future research test the model of creative leadership development articulate in this study? How might leadership programs specifically for education administrators build on the presented model of creative leadership?