The Leader and The Manager: A Leading Innovation in Arts & Culture Conversation

By    Nov 16, 2014

Photo by Olivier Carré-Delisle via Flickr

We’ve just wrapped our first Massively Open Online Course (MOOC) Leading Innovation in Arts and Culture. This unique course was created by Dave Owens at Vanderbilt University and customized for the arts and culture sector by National Arts Strategies. This eight-week course, offered on the Coursera platform, brought more than 9,000 artists, arts administrators and cultural entrepreneurs from around the world together to discuss the specific constraints to creating good ideas in our field and to build strategies for successful innovation. This was by far the largest course on innovation in arts and culture ever implemented.

The conversations that took place between the participants in this course were incredible and we want to share this with you. This week, we will be sharing some of the conversations we found inspiring and encourage you to engage and add your voice to the conversation.

The final week of the course tackled the role of the leader in an innovation strategy. This ignited a lot of conversation on what exactly makes a leader a leader and how this is or can be different than management. We know that this topic is integral to all of you working in or toward leadership roles in the arts and culture field. We often find ourselves allowing managerial tasks to get in the way and overlook leadership goals and opportunities, but both are essential to the work we do.

A participant kicked off the conversation with an emphasis on the societal distinction between leadership (inspiration and motivation) and management (operations and implementation), noting however that these lines can be blurred, specifically in the arts and culture sector.

Alexis Jeffcoat notes:

“Many of us are in jobs where we are wearing multiple hats and don’t have the luxury of choosing one over the other, we must be both.”

One of the course instructors and Senior Advisor for National Arts Strategies, Jim Rosenberg continues this discussion:

“The “leadership” and “management” distinction can be a helpful tool in analyzing how an organization is designed, though I don’t think they are ever strictly independent. A few factors that lead to more merging of “leadership” and “management” in people’s work are 1) the size of most arts and culture organizations, 2) the long trend towards flatter organizations, and 3) how well we prioritize organizational goals.”

Participants further discussed the ways they either merge these two roles into their work or find difficulty in what seems like a drastic divide. Charity Burd reflects on her personal desire to implement leadership into her everyday work but the struggle that managerial duties often place on this:

“At my work, I am officially labeled as a manager and need to ‘manage’.  Deal with budgets, hiring, strategy, paperwork, stakeholder engagement, etc.  But I am asked to be a leader also. It’s easy to train to be a manager but much harder to be a true leader.  Some people are naturals but I truly believe everyone has it in them to be leaders if they learn a few key things. But there are days I go home and wonder if I ‘led’ at all that day or if I unfortunately only ‘managed’ all day.”

Valerie Amor supports this idea and identifies the role that an organization’s culture can play:

“Sometimes the lines are not clearly delineated. The culture of the organization will be a tremendous influence on whether you can “rise up” from a more utilitarian position to an inspirational one.”

Cheryl Sobas notes that she has spent the duration of the course thinking about the same issues Charity mentions. Cheryl emphasizes her decision to take a look a leadership in a smaller, more bite-sized chunk:

“I’ve found myself thinking a lot over the past several weeks about how I can adjust the planning, development and implementation processes of the program I manage to allow for more learning, experimenting, and exchange rather than just racing toward deadlines, and helping team members to interact more constructively and kindly with each other. It starts with how I interact with my colleagues, how I speak to them (yes, word choices matter), and how we share responsibility for the outcome of the project. So I guess I’m trying to get away from what I think we often do, which is to always interpret “leadership” as LEADERSHIP in the big picture, grand organizational way, but instead to think about a kind of leadership on the ground in helping folks to work better, kinder, smarter, happier, etc. while still keeping managerial sight of the practical stuff. Fuzzy boundaries, no doubt about it. Maybe as managers we may all not be that kind of motivational, cheerleader sort of “leader,” but we can lead through thoughtful processes.”

Elizabeth Labbe-Webb agrees:

“I have found myself conscious, in a strangely out of body way almost, of when I am switching back and forth, especially during conversations/meetings with staff. I find I need to sometimes let go of the urgency of the managerial tasks so I can lead.”

Janet Mullet expands on this discussion:

“Of course we all do both, at any point in the organizational chart. I really valued the clarity in the course over the need to listen to the person in front of you and decide what it is they need from you at that moment – leadership or management – and to provide it on a case-by-case, day-by-day basis.  We are flexible, fluid human beings, and I appreciate the recognition and encouragement to use both options or blend as appropriate.”

Danya White places emphasis on the idea that it may not be the person in the highest role that automatically assumes the position of leader:

“I think manager is an official title but a leadership role is more psychological.  The manager may be the head of the group but may not always be the leader.  A leader steps in to provide guidance in a specific direction when the group seems to get stagnate or chaotic.  The manager does not always have the time to fill the leadership role therefore the role is filled by someone other than the manager.  It applies to all organizations, arts and cultural as well as technological.”

Tell us what you think. Is there a difference between leadership and management? Is it possible to be both at the same time all the time? What ways have you found to be successful in incorporating both roles into your work?