At the start of my working life, when people still hired me for my hands instead of head, I would use my excess intellectual energy to improve the work I was doing. I’d redo the archives or tinker with a machine to optimise its output, and I’d learn to race pallet trucks to improve logistics. My behaviour made sure employers liked me, as my ideas helped their business move forward.
The challenge of cultural leadership (any kind of leadership) is that in a rapid changing world, organisations need more ideas to move forward than a few formal leadership positions can come up with, especially when these leaders are also highly involved in management tasks.
This is less an issue of ideas, than the misconception that leadership is a position, rather than an attitude. There are countless great ideas for the future of museums. Unable to find their place in traditional hierarchies, these ideas often result in new, competing organisations. According to Lizzie Muller and Scott East, this challenges traditional leaders and organisations, and requires new approaches to educate future leaders:
“The classic model of cultural leadership education aims to propel mid-career professionals towards directorships. (…) But young practitioners are redefining the future of the arts and culture right now – often through independent spaces and self-initiated projects.”
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“This form of grassroots leading by example operates under the mainstream radar and is rarely recognised as leadership. That’s because we mistakenly tend to equate leadership solely with authoritative or hierarchical, rather than relational power. That mistake is bolstered by popular mythologies) of the cultural leader as either artistic genius or strategic businessperson – both of which rely on individual prominence, influence and experience as hallmarks of leadership.”