What We Need Is Another Abraham Lincoln

Back in 2005, I published a post titled What We Need Is Another Henry Ford that suggested stagnant management techniques and outdated operating models were pushing the orchestra field toward trouble. Although a popular post for its time, reader email was dismissive and in some cases, outright hostile in response to what might as well have been heresy (remember, 2005 predates comment functionality).

shake handsFast forward seven years and the field is now full of new model discussions while too many organizations are suffering under the strains of insular leadership identified several years prior; if anything, the suppositions from 2005 fell short of just how much trouble was in store.

But in classic fashion, all of the new model discussions simply illustrate how good the field is at shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted instead of noticing the genuine need.

In short, now is no longer the time for Henry Ford; instead, we need another Abraham Lincoln.

In this day and age the greatest threat to the business is the rise of intense and vitriolic labor unrest. Make no mistake, there is ample blame to spread around and problems that need immediate attention, but one would be hard pressed not to recognize that these hot spots are inflamed by a deluge of conflicting personalities and ideologically motivated factions.

What should strike fear into the hearts of all who love and cherish this field is the increasing likelihood that today’s disputes are producing multiple generations of retribution minded stakeholders. This self-defeating cycle is being led by a growing number of emboldened, yet unmistakably fringe, voices defining the debates.

In the end, more and more individuals can expect to get caught up in those artificial restrictions and reactionary hostilities, thereby making it increasingly difficult to realize the obvious need for a figure capable of bringing about meaningful reconciliation to these differences.

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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5 thoughts on “What We Need Is Another Abraham Lincoln

  1. Personally, being a classical music lover and a nonprofit administrator in the Twin Cities is horribly uncomfortable. I feel like taking out an ad “Not all administrators are bad!”

    I understand why both sides hired PR firms. If you don’t in today’s world, you’re sunk.
    IMO, making a case in the media (including social media) pulls the sides further apart, but again I understand why that is done in today’s world. So how do we get out of this place?

    After they settle…
    They will need the best damn fundraising team ever assembled to keep things going and continue to build support. And the best damn marketing team to get the audience back. And a rocket scientist brilliant public relations group. And a master personnel manager that soothes savage beasts on both sides. And….

    Full disclosure – I don’t work in the performing arts world and am sure I don’t understand all the challenges in the field. But I believe we are moving further and further away from a long term solution for the classical music community as a whole (audience, donors, musicians, administrators, students, public, etc).

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