What do I know about this?
What will I say to them?
What if they don’t listen to me?
Please, Lord, I’ve never done anything like this before.
Please, Lord, send someone else.
—Moses (paraphrased), Exodus 3-4
Okay, raise your hands….
How many of you went to an art school (or drama school, or dance school, or whatever) where you were required to take “business” classes?
Now, how many of you got your degree in business administration and decided that the “industry” where you wanted to use those skills was in the arts?
Probably roughly the same number, I’d guess. Not many.
When most of us were training as artists, our assumption (and that of our instructors) was that we just needed to be really good at making art. Not at organizational strategy. Not at marketing. Not at accounting.
Not at leading.
I trained as a theatre director. What artist would need leadership skills more?
Yet no one ever taught my directing school colleagues and me to be someone others would want to work alongside, and even follow. (Why have a calm conversation when a diva-tantrum is faster, at least as effective, and, let’s face it, sometimes more satisfying?)
No one taught us to manage time, money, and other resources responsibly. (“Budget schmudget, we’ll make it back in ticket sales.”)
No one taught us to build support for our work by communicating well about it. (“I shouldn’t have to EXPLAIN [obligatory eye roll] my Vision.”)
So when I got a clear call from God that I was supposed to start and lead something, I argued, too. Not to compare myself with Moses in any way, but I do totally get where he’s coming from. I had no leadership skills either. And it sounded like a lousy job. I ultimately did what God asked (told?) me to do, but I kept arguing, through three more “calls.”
Many artists resist the whole idea of leadership. We like to see our role as prophetically standing outside of the mainstream, pointing to its problems. How can we critique Authority if we are Authority? And what about our Art? Our Talent? Won’t that be going to waste if we accept a call to lead? (What if Moses actually liked being a shepherd?)
We have got to get over all that if we want to be instruments of change in our world for God’s kingdom.
Leadership sometimes isn’t very fun. It takes a lot of detail work, and we artists tend to like the big, sweeping picture. Too many artists have said to me, “I’m a visionary, not an administrator,” as though these are mutually exclusive job descriptions of leadership.
In fact, what used to be called “arts administration” is now more often being called “arts leadership.” This is because, in a rapidly changing world, “administration” doesn’t begin to represent the complexity of what arts leaders are required to do.
But although it can be really tough work, the rewards are incomparable.
For the next three months – June through August – the C&A blog is going to be focusing on leadership. Even if you’re not currently in a leadership position, and aren’t being called to one (or are still arguing), I hope we’ll convince you that leadership thinking is important for all of us.
Three start-up arts organizations/projects later, I have actually learned something about arts leadership and gotten pretty good at it, in my own way.*
I didn’t learn about arts leadership in the same places where I learned about making art. And often I needed to learn about “leadership” and apply the “arts” part for myself. So the first thing I’m going to focus on in this series is how “Leaders learn.”
I’ll also be talking about how:
- Leaders fail
- Leaders submit
- Leaders serve
- Leaders lead
We’ll also be hearing from arts leaders within our network about how they found themselves in leadership, struggled with it, and ultimately found their feet.
Stay tuned! You don’t want to miss this! (If you want to be sure you’re notified when each new blog is published, add this page to your RSS feed, or comment below and click “Notify me of new posts via email.”)
*Re leading “in my own way” – there are as many ways to successfully lead as there are leaders. In the last twenty years, we’ve seen a new respect for the distinctive ways in which women lead, and how a leader’s cultural background contributes to unique and effective ways of leading. Each individual mix of background, personality, gifts, skills, experience, and interests will impact leadership style.
Do you have your own story of ”leadership reluctance”? Please, tell us!