Additional thoughts about Leadership

I was pleased to see the well-written response on Andrew’s page with regard to my earlier blog about artistic administration programs. Having been an avid reader of Andrew’s blog for some time now, I agree with his statement “One frustration is that I tend to agree with Drew that there are problems with the way we have traditionally taught management leaders in Arts Administration.” I agree that between Andrew and myself we tend to see the same forest, but disagree on the trees.

Andrew goes on to state “Drew’s argument suggests that an overriding key to success as an arts manager is an artist’s and craftsman’s knowledge of the specific discipline being managed (orchestral performance, ballet, etc.)…not just love and passion for it, but extensive training in its production. I suggest that such depth of first-hand knowledge can be a nice quality in an effective manager, but it’s not the fount of all good.”

I expect here is were we start to see those different trees. I believe that an artist-manager has the greater likelihood for success as an executive administrator compared to an individual without artistic training. Perhaps here’s where Andrew and I disagree the most: It is this artistic training in a manager that serves as the essential catalytic element that separates the mediocre status quo individual (who are predominant throughout today’s orchestras) from a real leader capable of transforming the industry into a viable, healthy, and progressive institution. I wrote a detailed blog about these qualities in my earlier article What we need is another Henry Ford.

Andrew goes on to write a wonderful definition of what an ideal leader is: “Effective and kinetic managers and leaders of arts organizations are masters of synergy. They bring together artists, audiences, facilities, resources, as well as other creative, administrative, and support staff, all for a moment of connection. Beyond that, they foster an environment of complex constituents that supports recurrence and growth of that connection over time.” I couldn’t have written a better description myself, although I would have avoided the “Dilbertesque” use of vocabulary such as “synergy”. However, I believe that the necessary path an individual must travel to become this ideal leader is different than the path they currently follow.

I hope many of you will chime in with your opinions to Andrew or myself. I would love to post the best of them throughout the upcoming week.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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