Emerging Leadership Part II

To pick up a little where I left off yesterday.

A good part of the rest of the first day was devoted to reading literature and discussing the difference between leadership and management and how you can exhibit leadership even if you aren’t an area or department head.

The second day we were a little bit more crunched for time because it had been requested that the ELI participants attend the plenary session and super sessions planned that day. (More on them in a later entry.) One of the exercises the institute leaders had us engage in was August Boal’s Forum Theatre practice. Members of the group were given a script and scenario and then the rest of us were encouraged to stop the action and replace one of the actors to move the situation in a more positive direction. I had heard about Forum Theatre before but never witnessed it in action. It was quite an interesting experience.

Another exercise we engaged in was Story Circle (explanation starts on pg 3). This activity is often to assist with conflict resolution. We used it to talk about people who have exhibited leadership in our lives and then examine the common elements.

There were a number of observations that came out of these activities. Some members of the group felt they would put their jobs in jeopardy if they attempted to shift the direction of meetings to make them more constructive. By which I don’t mean trying to use these activities in their organization, but rather recognizing where things were falling apart and trying to shift the tenor of the conversation. Other than working very gradually and subtly, we didn’t see any solution to this dilemma.

One of the biggest issues that came out of our discussions was succession planning. Many felt there wasn’t any effort being made to secure succession in arts organizations in general. A few felt like the discussion about it in their organizations was going something like this:


Emerging Leader: me! me! mentor me! i love all this. look over here. i am energetic and excited.


To some degree we wondered if the existing leadership might be holding out for a clone of themselves when changing times required different skill sets.

After discussing the plenary and super sessions we had attended, we met with alumni of the Emerging Leadership Institute. This was apparently something that had never been done before. The alumni had been meeting earlier to discuss plans for Institute graduates.

Many of the alumni still felt a strong bond to those with whom they had gone through the program and some kept in touch. Unfortunately, the graduates as a whole didn’t keep in touch. At one time there was a person who put a lot of work into keeping the members abreast of each others’ activities. Once she stopped, everything fell apart.

The alumni (including the most recent batch) have expressed an interest in not only staying active on the listserv/discussion forums but also increasing the visibility of program graduates at the conference. Among the ways the graduates would like to participate are moderating panels and introducing speakers so that the same people don’t have to hustle from session to session.

Also, since participants in the institute are early in their careers and rather poor, the plan is to request some sort of break in conference fees for 5 years in return for volunteer work on the conference. The alumni that attended this year is only a small portion of those who have gone through the institute. The thought is to make it easy for graduates to continue to stay involved with APAP and the conference allowing them to expand their network of contacts and improve their leadership skills.

One of the concerns the alumni had was that the Emerging Leadership Institute isn’t perceived as important or valuable to arts organizations. One graduate was in the position to encourage and approve the participation of a colleague from her organization. She said her decision to do so was second guessed by her superiors who questioned it as a waste of time and money.

This was one of the reasons why the alumni are so interested in keeping everyone communicating. The better a resource of advice and answers the group becomes for its graduates, the more valuable attendance at the institute may be seen. This is also the reason why we want to be more visible at conferences as well.

I just wanted to observe–Like social networking sites (Myspace.com) and technology sites like YouTube, this is an example of users essentially taking the initiative to promote something they value and asking the host company for assistance in doing so. This was a theme that came up a lot during the conference–but I will talk about it later.

I should mention that despite the poor image organizations might have about the ELI, the 22 or so accepted were culled from a much larger pool of applicants. The process is fairly competitive and hopefully will become more so with alumni input.

Okay, so obviously there was a lot I liked about my experience. There were also a few places I felt things fell short. I have already submitted a written evaluation and had a discussion about all this with the group leaders so I am not telling tales out of school.

First- The application to the institute required us talk about the strengths, weaknesses and threats to our organization. I went expecting part of the conversation to include that. It never was.

According to one of the ELI leaders, they had been trying to get rid of that application for quite some time now since it did not reflect the content of the program and hoped to revamp the form for next year.

I don’t know if any sort of discussion in that area was supplanted by the request that we attend the plenary and super sessions or if it never occurs. I do think a discussion of the threats to the industry could have been valuable. I wouldn’t have been interested in an open grousing session where people laid out a lot of blame on the K-12 education system, home entertainment systems and the internet. The second day would have been the right time to have it. By then the ground rules for thoughtful discussion would have been firmly established.

But really, you can engage in discussion about threats to the industry in a lot of locations. What I think would have been really essential was an opportunity to address weaknesses in ones own leadership and how to better take a leadership role in ones current position. The environment was specifically designed to preserve confidentiality and to create bonds between participants to serve as resources for each other.

The more I think about it, the more I believe this was what many attendees were looking for. There were a lot of clues throughout the two days. Early on people specifically admitted they weren’t good at dealing with conflict. As I noted earlier, others mentioned that they were in dysfunctional environments. I went up to a person and told them I empathized with their situation based on my own history. And of course, some felt they were being overlooked as potential inheritors.

We were given some good tools and activities for dealing with conflict and affecting change when we returned to our organizations. I strongly suspect, however, that many in the group would have welcomed the opportunity to essentially engaged in a group therapy session, air their concerns and fears with colleagues and receive some advice and guidance in return.

I imagine that would have run things into a third day and even at the conference rate, it was pretty dang expensive to stay in those hotels! The whole experience was absolutely worthwhile. I am going to put some effort into making it even more so for those who follow by providing feedback and encouraging increased alumni involvement.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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