I know it’s only October, but I’d like to propose a New Year’s resolution for you, something that you can start preparing for right now so that on January 1st, you can hit the ground running. Next year, I want you to focus all of your energy on being the best leader you can be at your organization. It doesn’t matter if you aren’t in a “leadership” role, or if the notion of leadership is foreign to you. The point is, we need to rethink the definition and function of leadership in the arts and culture sector if we’re going to survive the challenges ahead of us. And thanks to some forward thinking from our colleagues across the pond, we can make a pretty good case for why.
Last month, Arts Council England published this report by King’s College London that will help form the core of the nation’s arts and culture strategy for the next decade. Although the study was conducted in England, the results mirror what I hear regularly from arts professionals across the United States. It’s a well-written and carefully researched study that I recommend you read in full, but for brevity, this paragraph from the executive summary sums it up best. The emphasis is mine:
Fluctuations in the external environment, financial uncertainty and the need to be relevant to the changing needs and tastes of contemporary society will all require the sector’s leaders to be responsive and open, flexible and innovative. Leaders need to think differently about developing and retaining talent, particularly in order to enable organisations to become more inclusive and to adapt to changing demographics in an increasingly intergenerational workforce. This is likely to pose a special challenge to hierarchical models of leadership and create new pressures that may exacerbate the already high risk of burnout in the sector, at all levels. These challenges require innovative, brave and resilient leaders, who work collaboratively and can begin to change organisational cultures to create a new paradigm of leadership.
A “new paradigm of leadership” sounds complicated and unattainable, doesn’t it? It’s not! It all boils down to something I’ve been saying for a long time: as America continues to become more diverse, we will need to welcome diverse audiences who require diversified programming from diversified voices. And those diversified voices will only emerge if each person at your organization is encouraged to develop and demonstrate true leadership qualities, whether they are an executive director or a box office assistant.
According to the study, leadership development should no longer be focused solely at the top of the organization, but should instead be about “creating opportunities for individuals to lead at all levels.” Leadership starts within each of us, no matter where we sit in the organizational chart. And we can’t diversify anything if we stick to the old, top-down model. Of course, for this to happen, the current “leaders” at the top have to start practicing leadership that is “facilitative, flat and diverse.”
So, if you’re already a leader at your organization, you have to rethink your approach to leadership, and if you’re not a leader at your organization, you need to start to think like one. To get the ball rolling, the authors suggest embracing four key values: getting to know yourself, building better relationships, embracing change and innovation, and taking responsibility and ownership. In my next post, I’ll explain these values and give you some strategies and tactics that you can use to get started.
There’s a LOT of information in this report, but if you focus on the first 25 pages you’ll get a sense of what you can start to do right now. Discuss this with your colleagues and your boss, and set a plan in motion to make 2019 the year YOU become the kind of leader our institutions need to meet the challenges of the next decade.