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Leadership Lessons from the Unlikeliest of Places

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  1. Planning really helps. Today's museum leaders juggle an absurd number of plates. Having an agreed upon plan and policies is something board, staff and volunteers can support and depend on.

  2. It's a given that museum leaders should surround themselves with the most talented team they can attract and afford. The lesson is listen to the talent. If they're really so smart, if they really have particular areas of expertise, use it. Don't make decisions without them.

  3. Check your biases at the door. If you secretly long for some stereotypical workplace where sparkling white women in tailored dresses laugh discreetly, while white men in expensive suits make weighty decisions, keep it to yourself. The world has changed. Join the 21st-century. Your organization needs a unifier, not a divider. Be the unifier.

  4. Deal with your anger somewhere else. We all get angry. As leaders, mostly we don't show it, especially the personal, whiney variety.

  5. Respect social media. It's a powerful thing. If you choose to ignore it, you'll pay a price. If you choose to participate without a communications plan, you'll pay a different price.

  6. Know your strengths and weaknesses. If you're not a good speaker or writer, have staff help you craft your remarks. The more important the event, the more important your remarks. Ditto if spreadsheets drive you to distraction. Staff can't get you off the hook, but they can and will support you. Again, use their expertise.

  7. Respect your office. Understand on whose shoulders you stand, literally and metaphorically. Know the history of your organization, know its subject matter. Believe in it.

  8. Don't take it personally. Being a leader means a lot of anger, complaint and crankiness floats in your direction. Pay scales to parking, health benefits to number of exhibitions, exhibit content to stock in the shop, it all comes back to you. Or rather to you as the executive director. Separate your emotions from your job.

  9. Be ready to apologize. You're not perfect. Leaders who can't apologize breed staffs who can't trust, and bad karma abounds.

  10. Be kind. Yes, as a museum leader your plate is full, but you model the behavior you want in others. A warm, kind leader tends to attract a warm, kind staff. Not so kind leaders tend to attract different folks. Ask yourself--am I the person I want to work for? The President's post-Charlottesville remarks are a slow-burning fuse. AAM, AASLH, and many state arts councils have written responses. And this week the Committee on the Arts and Humanities walked off the job in protest. Leadership is tough enough without steering the ship of state into an ocean littered with anger and racism, a place where everyone feels entitled and emboldened to utter the first thought that comes to mind. And it's an especially strange world where it's possible to learn leadership by doing the opposite of what the 45th president does. Joan Baldwin

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