Leonardo da Vinci’s Performance Review:
Choosing the right employee for a job

Sometimes only one employee is qualified for a job. Sometimes speed is more important than expertise.

Savvy managers routinely gain enough understanding of new projects to target the work to the workers’ strengths. 

Even in creative fields, managers determine which worker is best for a job based on their speed and skill. Take a profession as inherently immeasurable as art. Art benefactors are middle managers who know the go-to person for time-sensitive work.

In his bestselling biography, Leonardo da Vinci, Walter Isaacson immerses himself in 15th-century Italy. Studying da Vinci’s sketchbooks and works of art, Isaacson paints a picture of a brilliant and distractable artist. 

Occasionally, da Vinci was passed over for big jobs by his benefactor, Lorenzo de’ Medici. For example, the Sistine Chapel ceiling commission went to Michelangelo, one of da Vinci’s contemporaries.

It’s easy to imagine Lorenzo de’ Medici’s assessment of Leonardo da Vinci:

Leo has great attention to detail. His drawings of the human anatomy are astonishingly realistic. That is, if Leo completes his work. I’ve seldom experienced a more distractable employee. 

Leo will start drawing an arm, get excited about how water flows in the river, and abandon his original drawing. 

While his innate talent is indisputable, his discipline is lacking. He has a pattern of leaving half-finished works lying around as if he expects others to complete them.

Leo is also a perfectionist which, I think, is a big part of his
problem. When the going gets tough and Leo can’t get it absolutely correct, he’ll put his painting on the shelf. 

He’s been working on this painting he calls “Mona Lisa” for almost a decade. I keep telling him to finish it already. He’s letting great get in the way of good.

His pal Michelangelo, on the other hand, is an absolute workhorse. He chiseled out “David” in the time Leo was dithering with his sketchbook. When I need work done tout de suite, I look to Michelangelo. 

Leo was miffed when I gave Michelangelo the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Although it took Michelangelo four years to complete the ceiling, I knew Leo would never have finished it.

If de’ Medici had upcoming work requiring precise, scientific anatomical drawings, he’d most certainly want to use da Vinci provided the deadline wasn’t too tight. Otherwise, he’d go with Michelangelo, who was no slouch in the realistic representation of the human form. 

If a church sought a graceful religious painting, de’ Medici might go with the talented but less renowned Sandro Botticelli. de’ Medici understands each artist well enough to play to their strengths so they can deliver spectacular results. 

Does this intrigue you? Are you interested in learning more? If so, it’s your lucky day. My new book expounds upon this modified excerpt. Buy The Agile Enterprise: Applying Agile Principles to Drive Organizational Success in digital or print format to better understand applying the principles of Agile Programming across the board in a company.