image1   image2   image3

Must Reads

the Getty Leadership Institute

Selected readings for arts and culture leaders from National Arts Strategies and the Getty Leadership Institute


It isn’t difficult to find ideas on leadership. alone lists over 68,000 books on the topic. A quick search on Google provides over 439 million results. What we know to be difficult, based on our work with executives and staff from across the arts and culture sector, is identifying the thoughts on leadership that are most relevant to running a cultural organization and that are worth making the time to read.

This compendium brings together 21 articles on leadership that the Getty Leadership Institute at Claremont Graduate University and National Arts Strategies have identified specifically for busy arts and cultural professionals. It includes a mix of provocative articles and leadership classics on mission, organizational strategy, leadership skills and organizational culture. These writings together explore and, we hope, spark creative thinking about questions that are central to leadership in arts and cultural organizations today:

  • How do communities define and achieve their goals? How can arts and culture organizations engage their communities and play a meaningful role in realizing these community visions?
  • How do organizations achieve focus and remain nimble? How can cultural executives frame their thinking about organizational strategy to be more effective leaders for staff and board?
  • How can executives actively develop leadership skills? What can arts leaders understand about themselves, about others and about the process of leadership?
  • How does the structure of an organization support or limit a leader’s efforts? How do arts and cultural leaders craft a working environment that supports change and furthers their mission?


The 21 readings included in this compendium were selected through a deliberate research process. We started with the simple question, “What are the most pressing challenges facing arts and culture leaders?” We engaged a team of researchers to work with our staff to evaluate what the research-based literature on leadership had to say about these pressing questions. We looked at the ideas that professionals in the nonprofit, for-profit and government sectors find most useful, and we looked at the ideas being taught about leadership in business, public policy, education and other professional schools across the country.

We hope that you will find these readings as thought-provoking as we do. There are never easy answers to leading an organization or achieving a grand mission—and there are no easy answers in this collection. However, we do believe there are great questions here as well as great tools that can help arts and culture leaders think creatively about the challenge of cultural leadership.

Denotes a provocative selection.


Leadership and the Public Mission

The leader of an arts or cultural institution is leading a public institution. This role brings with it expectations of public service, community responsiveness and demands to demonstrate public value in return for the special considerations granted to nonprofit organizations. This public standing introduces a layer of leadership challenges that private companies do not face.

The readings in this section explore the challenge of leadership in this public realm. These articles ask leaders to explore the nature of “civic capacity” and the ways in which communities act to address their own goals and issues, to consider the effects of generational changes in our communities and to examine how market-based strategies do and do not balance with a public mission. The last reading in the section explores how leaders can integrate these and other concerns in the definition of an organization’s public mission.

Democracy as Problem Solving:
Civic Capacity in Communities Across the Globe

Generations: The Challenge of a Lifetime for Your Nonprofit

The Marketization of the Nonprofit Sector:
Civil Society at Risk?

Mission Impact: Breakthrough Strategies for Nonprofits


Organizational Strategy

Myriad stakeholders, challenging competitive environments, complex external relationships and quickly shifting challenges are staples of the leadership experience in the arts and culture sector. Leaders must be able to form and communicate a clear strategy to navigate successfully in this environment. In this section, we highlight three classic works on strategy in the nonprofit sector. The last reading includes a closer look at the balance between competition and collaboration, an essential question in the nonprofit sector as leaders must balance the individual pursuit of organizational health with the collective pursuit of artistic and cultural advancement.

Good to Great and the Social Sectors:
Why Business Thinking is Not the Answer

The Five Most Important Questions You Will Ever Ask About Your Organization

Designing for Growth

Connective Leadership: Managing in a Changing World


The Art and Science of Leadership

For most people, leadership is an implicit skill, codified in a personal collection of tips and techniques developed through years of experience. The formal study of the leadership process has highlighted patterns across these personal experiences that make it easier to reflect on one’s own behavior as a leader and the response of those who are asked to follow. These frameworks and tools allow for more explicit evaluation and improvement of leadership approaches.

The readings in this section ask leaders to look more closely at themselves, at their understanding of others and at the process they use to evaluate leadership. The first group of articles focus on the leader directly: how effective leaders frame the leadership challenge, how they respond to the difficulties that arise in any leadership journey (provocatively explored through an ode to pain) and how they lead independent of the use of authorityan asset that at times will be available and at other times will not. The second group of articles explores the relationship with those who follow: the creation of meaning for others, the role of learning as a tool for leadership and the tension that arises from pursuing both artistic achievement and organizational efficiency. The last group of articles explores evaluation in order to help leaders accurately understand leadership success and issues, and use then this understanding to drive discussion and improvement.

Challenging Yourself

Diagnostic Work: Determining the Principal Challenge, Chapter Two of Real Leadership: Helping People and Organizations Face Their Toughest Challenges

The Grace of Great Things: Creativity and Innovation

Leadership Without Easy Answers


Engaging Others

The Transformational Model of Leadership

4 Practices serve as Pillars for Adult Learning: Learning-oriented leadership offers a promising way to support growth

Managing the Arts: Leadership and Decision Making under Dual Rationalities


Assessing Needs and Progress

Creating High-Impact Nonprofits

Being the Boss: the 3 Imperatives for Becoming a Great Leader


Organizational Culture

Leaders can create an organizational culture and environment that makes leadership easier or more difficult. In this final section, the readings explore organizational culture and organizational change, focusing on questions that can help leaders successfully navigate significant transitionsa fundamental question in today’s nonprofit environment. The first reading highlights the power of culture and context to multiply the potential of an organization. A study of the museum world describes a basic framework for leading organizational change. Subsequent readings explore the key challenges leaders must address in significant transitions: real and perceived challenges to the existing value system, strong emotional responses and the need to connect ideas to actions.


Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter

Leading with Passion: Change Management in the 21st Century Museum

The Transition Challenge: Moving from One System of Values to Another, Chapter Five of Real Leadership: Helping People and Organizations Face Their Toughest Challenges

Leadership and the Psychology of Turnarounds

Improving Leadership in Nonprofit Organizations