Executive Profiles Part 2

Today’s installment will begin by examining the final executive profile: Builders…


Among all of the executive profiles, Builders maintain the most intensity, drive, and vision. At the same time, they also share the greatest number of specific administrative characteristics with the other two profiles. The result is that many Builders will make good use of their individual skill set to help achieve their vision.

Moreover, vision are what drive Builders. In most cases, Builders begin their careers implementing the visions of others but begin to develop their own convictions soon enough. In the end, finding an organization which matches their convictions ultimately determines a Builder’s level of success.

Builders are usually the first in line to apply for positions at unstable organizations. They realize that significant challenges can also provide for an opportunity for an unusually high level of control and experimentation.

It isn’t unusual for Builders to have a higher than average rate of turnover among senior staff. They expect results and don’t have the patience for cultivating support for their vision among team members. Instead, Builders will cycle through subordinates until they find an individual that inherently retains their views.

Consequently, the work environment in an office run by a Builder is typically intense. As such, Builders tend to thrive in hectic situations and end up becoming proficient crisis managers (most of which is initiated by their hand).

Due to the inherent amount of conflict required to implement a vision which may not be shared by all stakeholders organizations run by Builders end up having a very unhappy group of musicians or a very unhappy group of board members at one point or another. The result is that the administrative staff isn’t the only component to experience a high level of turnover.

Not unlike the other two profiles, Builders have strengths and weaknesses. For instance, Builders don’t see artificial restrictions; instead, they have a vision and work to find resources capable of building their vision into reality.

In its best incarnation, Builders show the business that artificial limits are exactly that, artificial. They embody the sort of figure Henry Ford referred to when he said “I am looking for a lot of men who have an infinite capacity to not know what can’t be done.”

The results from setting their sights on “bigger and better” oriented growth can be simply astounding and communities which would otherwise be served by a commonplace ensemble instead find themselves with an outstanding ensemble that is an artist force to be reckoned with.

In its worst incarnation, Builders will wreck havoc on an organization by alienating too many crucial stakeholders, often leaving it in worse condition than before they arrived. If labor relations weren’t bad when this sort of Builder arrives, they will likely be outright hostile by the time they leave.

Most Builders find failure by neglecting to understand the magnitude of collective bargaining negotiations. They become so consumed by their vision that anyone (or group) perceived as standing in their way or slowing them down will be interpreted as an adversary. As such, winning a labor conflict simply isn’t enough; instead, these Builders become consumed with making their adversaries not only realize they lost but that they were foolish to ever try and fight.

It isn’t uncommon to hear frustrated Builders in the middle of a crashing an organization into the ground complain that their musicians won’t give them the flexibility they require or Board members aren’t working hard enough.

Consequently, it is important to point out that Builders don’t always look up. In fact, most of the Builders in the past few years have done the exact opposite. Instead of maximizing potential they create a vision centered on right-sizing an organization they feel is overgrown.

Eventually, right-sizing Builders must engage their vision against the musician’s outlook in the setting of collective bargaining negotiations. In recent times, the results have been simply catastrophic: bankruptcy proceedings, partial cancellation of seasons, brutal labor negotiations openly fought in the press, and work stoppages.

In the end, it is tough not to notice a Builder. After all, tremendous success and remarkable failure are hard to miss.

Closing Thoughts

After reading much of the email and comments sent in by readers yesterday I decided to go back and rewrite this section. A number of readers commented on how out of the norm for it felt to read both positive and negative traits for each of the profiles. At the same time, even more readers asked what sort of qualities should exist in an ideal manager.

All in all, that is an excellent question to ask but I don’t think there is a reasonable answer. An absolutely ideal manager (or board member, musician, or patron for that fact) is by nature, paradoxical. Even the most successful managers in this business have distinct shortcomings and have experienced periods where they failed to do the right thing at the right time; as a result, their organization suffered.

More so, I’ve seen young executive managers never fulfill their potential because their personality profile was the wrong fit in the wrong place at the wrong time. They’ve been more concerned with taking any executive position which might help them move up the career ladder instead of finding an organization which makes best use of their skills and profile characteristics.

Since every profile has strengths and weaknesses, I think the only ideal manager is one possessing characteristics which allow an organization to reach artistic excellence while simultaneously developing a healthy internal culture. Furthermore, an ideal manager applies the axiom of “know thyself” to their administrative persona and finds others to compensate their shortcomings.

I have thoroughly enjoyed all of the personal email messages readers have sent in. Some points are so thought provoking they kept popping into my head throughout the day regardless of what I was working on. Others pointed out some fascinating connections I didn’t see and a few actually reinforced what I initially perceived simply by the arguments they presented to disagree with the concept of the article.

In the end, I would love to see more of this sort of discussion going on in the comments section. Then again, I’ve witnessed too many examples as of late where comment discussions have gotten out of hand so perhaps the ratio of private email vs. public comments is a blessing in disguise. Regardless, this topic would serve as the foundation for a fascinating conference seminar and an even better late-night-at-the-bar discussion. Either way, keep sending in your thoughts and observations.

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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3 thoughts on “Executive Profiles Part 2”

  1. I know this was just supposed to be relevant to orchestras. But as someone who has started a small video/film company (and who knows what he wants to film) I find myself working with a plethora of much younger people and my challenge is to nurture their creativity when it would be a whole lot easier (trust me) to simply tell them what to do. Everything you have written here applies to us. We build. We fail. We stumble. We experiment. We make mistakes. We fall. We get back up again. You have articulated an enormous balancing act. I now see some things I must simply do. Thank you.

  2. This is a good discussion topic for further debate.

    I followed you through the first two sections but the builder section puzzled me. It didn’t seem to flow. I think what you described might be called more an autocrat than a builder. Someone who is looking for authority and power rather than vision to drive them. You started by talking about vision, but then the “right-sizing” comments and the downward management style, neither of those ring out as vision-driven parameters. High turnover is common under an autocrat but not so much in a builder who drives people but retains them with a vision of what’s to come.

    If that vision is translated to a passion then you can take some less than willing participants on a thrilling ride that will eventually be seen as worth the terror of it all. A builder can also keep labor relations well in balance as the upward mobility should raise the options for the “labor force”. For me a builder drives an institution with a purpose and a sense of what comes next. The vision has to be an institutional motivational tool, not a personal one. They may not know what the last page of the book will say, but they know what the next chapter or two need to say to keep the plot options open.

    But as you also said there are pluses and minuses to all leadership of these.

  3. Andrew: I think it is owrthwhile to mention that I’m using the term “building” in a sense that does not universally imply growth. In some scenarios, which I think you’re touching on in your comment, there have been Builders who are driven to create an organization that may have a smaller budget size, shorter, season, employ fewer staff and musicians, etc. That’s where the right-size point comes into play.

    What I’ve observed is that executives who are consumed by a vision, regardless if it is growth or reduction, exhibit many of the same leadership traits. what I think you touch on that is crucial here is how well that vision fits into the overall collective mindset of the organization and how well of a job any particular executive does at bringing their own vision into alignment with the entire organization (or a little in the other direction as well).

    In cases of vision resulting in growth and reduction, I think your phase “a Builder drives an institution with a purpose and a sense of what comes next” applies equally.

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