Name the beast!

Among the themes common to the great myths, particularly those  involved with a culture’s rites of passage, is the search to discover the name of the (always) threatening beast. To name the beast is to tame the beast. One of the beasts roaming the corridors of museums  is the “you’re-less-central-than-I-am”  beast, the beast that asserts that it protects the organization’s buried treasure, its core values, and you—well, not so much—in fact you may not really belong at all.

Museums are famous for their culture wars, not always stopping short of the temptation of one group to visit ethnic cleansing upon another. If we could just name the beast.

An article I’ve mentioned in an earlier post may help. The authors (Cray, David, Loretta Inglis, and Susan Freeman) name the beast “dual rationalities” and turn institutional tensions inherent in these differing rationalities into something to be valued and respected and even relied upon. The dual rationalities in arts organizations are that of aesthetic/creative judgment and organizational efficiency. The article covers two functions—leadership styles and strategic decision-making processes—tools that must be held accountable to the overarching importance of both creativity and efficiency. The authors examine four leadership styles for decision making in terms of their strengths, weaknesses, and applicability to arts organizations.

The consideration of any significant opportunity or threat is never finished until both aesthetic judgment and organizational efficiency have been used as valued lenses. See “Managing the Arts: Leadership and Decision Making under Dual Rationalities.” The Journal of Arts management, Law and Society 36, no. 4 (Winter 20007): 295-313. This article is among the GLI-National Arts Strategies compendium of “Must Reads” for arts and cultural leaders.

Further to this idea of dual rationalities, at GLI’s recent strategic retreat, there was a fascinating conversation about what a newly emerging leadership model built on three sets of qualities or skills should look like. MLI faculty Jeanne Liedtka, did a creditable job summarizing the conversation. Her notes follow.

Jeanne’s summary shows that these skills and qualities come together in helping an organization define its relationship to self and others; the importance of expertise learned and newly emerging learning; and that the present is always a combination of past and future as well. We are playing with some of these ideas in the evolving GLI curricula.

I’ve just returned from a board meeting of the Instituto de Liderazgo de Museos (ILM) in Mexico City. ILM is expanding in Latin America, I’m happy to report.  MiJin is traveling in India and doubtless making new GLI friends there. Emily is at AAM this week and looking forward to seeing many of our alums at the reception this Tuesday evening.

Wishing you the best!

by Phil Nowlen, Executive Director, GLI

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2 responses to “Name the beast!

  1. Pingback: Measuring Success | The Compleat Leader

  2. Thanks for this post, Phil. A good juicy little morsel! I have known this beast and am happy to have you nudge it into the light of day for closer examination.

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