Artistic confrontation

A new study reveals that the confrontational artistic concept Shibboleth can be used to provide better managers and healthier employees.

Julia RomanowskaCan you describe the artistic concept Shibboleth?
“It is a literary and musical performance, followed by individual written reflection and group reflection. The ensemble consists of two actors, a sound technician and a moderator. Interwoven with music, the actors take turns to read various passages about poignant human catastrophes and malice, as well as human greatness and dignity. The performance is directed, but unpredictable, which is precisely the point. The audience has to focus and concentrate; it is difficult to shield yourself, you exist in the now. The brain organises the impressions, which leads to a release of control and a change in thought patterns.”

What gave you the idea to research Shibboleth and leadership?
“I used to work as a musician and music teacher and am a trained percussionist. I have also worked with the military’s leadership training programmes and in parallel hosted a literary and musical salon where the Shibboleth form took shape. From this the idea was born to investigate whether an artistic model could be used as an alternative to the conventional leadership programmes. My thinking was that the Shibboleth format and content would ‘shake up’ the audience, resulting in greater humanism, and would break
down stereotypical behaviour among managers.”

Does it work?
“Yes, the results show that employees identify changes among their managers after they have undergone Shibboleth – they took more responsibility, were more courageous and were prepared to ‘stand up’ in situations that are difficult to handle. Self-awareness increased, as did their humility. I also saw mental and biological health-promotional effects among both managers and employees, for example improved self-esteem and ability to cope with stress. In the control group, which was given traditional leadership training, the results were the opposite.”

What explains these effects?
“Traditional leadership training is based on managers using themselves as a basis for guiding other individuals to fulfil objectives. The point of the Shibboleth concept is to do the  opposite; using other individuals as the point of departure and seeing the world through their eyes. It is possible to do this through art. Many participants were affected in a way they had never been before. By feeling compassion for others, they began to process their own feelings and re-evaluate their selfimage. A new concept I have introduced is aestemethics. This is an attitude the participants adopted – a combination of aesthetic (fantasy-based), emotional and ethical elements – which led to a new self-image. This involved people taking greater responsibility for others and their own leadership.”

Julia Romanowska has recently gained a PhD at the Department of Neuroscience, Karolinska Institutet.

Text: Marie Svedberg, First published in Medical Science 2015