I Wish I Could Say Things Are Better

Back in 2014 I wrote an article about the emergence of strategic decision making that was defined more by extreme voices at either end of a political spectrum than anything else. Keep in mind, this was a full year and half before the 2016 national election.

At the time, those extreme voices were still moving from the status of fringe voices, to the tail that wags the dog, to the whole canine.

Throughout the pandemic, I’ve worked with colleagues on how best to navigate these challenges on politically charged issues like vaccination policies and mask requirements. In each case, there are always voices pushing hard for exceptions and when it rises to the level of boards or musicians taking formal votes on the issue, executives find themselves navigating these choppy waters.

Having said that, my advice now is the same as it was back in 2014: don’t allow these voices to dominate conversations on governance.

Failing to do so risks getting stuck in what the tech sector defines as dark enlightenment, or the overt rejection of advances made during a period of Golden Age advances.

Historically, one of the best tools in an executive’s chest to prevent polarization from dominating strategic decision making was to keep stakeholders focused on a clearly defined, unilaterally supported vision.

Sadly, that is far less effective than it was in 2014 and if there’s one topic worth ongoing study, this is it. Specifically, how do nonprofit performing arts executives prevent polarization from dominating strategic decision making.

It’s something I’m spending more time researching as of late and am looking forward to reporting on what I uncover.

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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