As I noted earlier, I was at the Arts Presenters Conference over the last week. I will be writing about the experience over the next couple days and maybe even longer. I took a lot of notes and picked up some literature I still need to digest.
I also spoke at some length to one of the APAP board members about creating discussion forums as I recently vowed to do. Of course, she challenged me to step up to my convictions and join the communications committee.
What I wanted to talk about in today’s entry was my participation in the Emerging Leadership Institute. The Institute is one of many conference leadership training efforts associated with a conference. I listed many of them in an earlier entry. In that same entry, I cited Andrew Taylor’s frustration that there are so many of these programs and none of them talk to each other.
At one point during the institute I spoke to the aforementioned board member, (who was helping to lead the institute), suggesting that if APAP was pondering conducting leadership activities regionally, they should first look to tap into the existing leadership seminar infrastructures like the National Arts Leadership Institute (NALI) rather than reinventing the wheel. I then sought out Philip Horn who is associated with NALI, asked him how things were going with the organization and told him what I had suggested.
Anyway, there were about 22 people attending the institute. Everyone was in the first 5-10 years of their career in presenting. Almost everyone was a presenter with a couple artist agents, a couple of service organizations but no artists. Apparently, this year was unusual in that there were no artists participating.
I also noticed and commented that nearly everyone was from either a university, city or state associated institution. There were few people from “independent” presenting organizations. I was told this was reflective of the general membership–it started 50 years as a university presenters organization and remains generally so. I noted this as another reason I think APAP should host open bulletin board forums. If the website is viewed as a resource for many, perhaps the conferences will be as well and attendance will diversify.
One thing I was surprised at was that the institute sessions were lead by an artist agent and a presenter rather than a professional leadership consultant. In my mind this was a strength because the leaders had a practical understanding of the environment in which the attendees were operating. Consultants tend to live in a more theoretical place. This type of objectivity is certainly useful in many cases.
In this particular instance I think the arrangement helped the group develop a trust bond with each other and the leaders much faster than if it had been lead by consultants. And lord knows, we had little enough time to waste.
One of the first major activities we engaged in was splitting into groups based on our major leadership style. One group was comprised of those who look at the big picture and storm full speed ahead toward it pulling everyone else along. Another group was the process oriented people who make sure everything is well organized and accounted for. The third group were people who took the feelings and concerns of others into account. The last group were those who celebrate every little victory and act as cheerleaders. Only two people identified themselves in this last group so they merged with the third group.
Each group was then assigned to go off and list what they felt were the hallmarks of that particular leadership style. I was in the third group and had joined it semi-reluctantly because it sounded a little too touchy-feelie, but suited me better than the descriptions of the other areas. Come to find out, most people in the group didn’t feel the category wholly defined them and that they had strong elements from the other areas. Many, like me, were very much lovers of spreadsheets and databases as decision making tools. The institute leaders are going to transcribe our notes and email them to us so I can touch on the specific elements of each style at a later date.
Briefly, my group decided our style was focussed on generating consensus and buy-in from people. It was felt that involving people in this way was important because the pay in the industry was so unrewarding. Many of us said that we knew we needed to be decisive at the end of the day even knowing that some people disagreed. A few admitted that they shied away from confrontation and these type of decisions. We felt it was important to have people like us around in a presenting environment because often artists visit us as the 35th stop on a 50 city tour and people like us work hard to make them feel safe and comfortable.
When the groups came together to discuss the hallmarks of our style, we had a little bit of a surprise. While we compared and contrasted ourselves against the other groups privately, we realized we were an amalgam with the other styles. One of the other groups, (I won’t say which) essentially dismissed our leadership style publicly generally characterizing us as touchie-feelie and really only good for organizing receptions, parties and soothing hurt feelings.
Now to be honest, a couple people in my group did admit that their boss was the yeller and their role was to motivate and organize the traumatized staff when meetings were over. That wasn’t what we saw as our primary function. For many of us, throwing parties and making people comfortable wasn’t even something we did directly but rather delegated and enjoined others to do.
After this stage of the exercise, we were asked to go back in our groups and create a definition of leadership. This information too will be emailed to me so I will address it more directly at a later time. When we got back in our group, we discussed the comments directed at our style during the session we just left. Then a number of us wryly observed we were probably the only group actually doing so. One member confirmed that before he left the other room he overheard one group launching into a discussion before all the members had assembled.
Despite the differences in our leadership styles, each group created remarkably similar definitions of what leadership was. Even though we used varying tactics to demonstrate leadership, we agreed what the ultimate product of those actions should be.
At this point my entry is getting pretty long so I will continue with my ELI experiences tomorrow.
One thing I want to say before I end is that the attendees of the institute really developed strong bonds with each other fairly quickly. I can’t speak for everyone in my leadership style group, I will say that while I can remember which leadership style group made the unflattering comments, I can’t remember who was actually a member of that group. In speaking with others from my particular sub-group at other times during the week that followed, no one ever said anything critical about any other institute attendee, much less commented that they were going to keep an eye on X because he/she was a member of “that” group.