"And the beat goes on...................."
I came across an article on Tim Cook, Apple CEO, noting a list of five people he calls on for advice and counsel on specific issues - people apart from his staff and usual advisors and counselors. A heady list, they included Warren Buffet, Bill Clinton, Anderson Cooper, Lloyd Blankenfein (Goldman Sachs CEO) and Steve Jobs' widow Laurene Jobs, but then again if you're the CEO of the world's most valuable company, makers of the ubiquitous iPhone and iPad, you have access to people mere mortals do not.
But it occurred to me that this idea of having a kitchen cabinet of advisors apart from your staff, board and usual people with whom you confer, is a good idea for any organization - of any size, in any field and at any stage of its existence.
In the arts, I can imagine it being valuable to cultivate relationships with people you identify as smart, insightful, willing to share knowledge and time, and who have some requisite experience and credentials that would qualify them as people you would like to be able to call - now and again - for specific advise on topics and issues in their area of expertise. They don't have to be the elite of some mythical 'A' List - they need only be intelligent and willing to share with you because you will share with them; people in your area and your geography, or perhaps in some cases a little further afar. These are not your daily advisors, but rather people you call on for special circumstances.
For the Arts, my list of five such advisors and confidantes might include people in:
1. Philanthropy - someone in the arts foundation or public funding system who might help you from time to time with issues in fundraising, grant applications, project formation, policy development - from specifics about a campaign, or a funding goal, to overall policy matters --- a program officer in an arts funding foundation or a development specialist at another nonprofit, or the Executive Director of a city, county, or state government agency. Someone you might be able to tap when you have some important (to your organization) question or issues.
2. The Community - someone who understands the subtleties and dances of the culture of your organization's community - where you physically reside, the composition of your support, your audience, and all the other organizations that make up your eco-system neighborhood. This person might be outside the arts or work along with you. To best relate to your community, you may, from time to time, need to tap into someone who understands it (not better, but on a different level), and from a different perspective than you do. Communities, even small, insular ones, are complex systems with layers on layers of assets, needs, deficits and potential.
3. Government: An Elected or Appointed Official - a city councilperson, a mayor, a local Congress person - or the head of the school board, or the chief of staff of any of these, or the head of a local government agency. Sometimes, you need some insider advise and opinion about matters that affect your organization and your sector from a political place. And sometimes, you need a favor.
4. Media - a reporter at a local television station, a writer for a magazine, an online local blogger or noted personality, a p.r. agent. Sometimes you need somebody from that field to help you understand why what you are doing is or isn't working like you had hoped, and changes that might yield you better results.
5. Nonprofit Governance - someone in your position at another organization that you can commiserate with; someone who can understand the problems and issues that come up in running an organization - large or small, new or old. And sometimes you need some help with the various components of the governance of your organization - including your Board, and that person might be a friend who happens to be on the Board of a different organization - even one not in the arts field. The point is Governance doesn't always work as its suppose to, and sometimes an outside voice can help you untangle the mess., or at least see it from a different vantage point.
Doubtless most of you already know at least one or two people who might fit the above categories, but perhaps have never thought of them as a semi "official" source of help. And it would not be that hard to recruit people in the other categories (or in categories of your own that are more relevant to your work). Make up a list and work through it. You don't have to necessarily codify these roles until such time as you have need to seek some input from your list of possible advisors on something specific. And if you have to go through a number of people over a period of time to get your short list of people, that's ok and part of the process. A truly valuable set of people who you can talk to about important matters as they arise is something that will take time to develop, nurture and grow. Start now with the idea of the names that might be on your list.
Remember this: you can cold call anyone, and in the arts that includes virtually everyone no matter how exalted they may seem. Try it, you'll be surprised how many people you don't know, but believe have experience that will benefit you, will return your phone calls and help if they can. That doesn't mean you ought to rush to tap into any and everyone for superficial advice, but if you have a genuine issue that someone might help you see more clearly, my guess is most people, in our world, if they have the time at the moment, and if they actually can help, will help.
In the long term, not only will you end up with an excellent circle of advisors, but that network can grow stronger over time and may yield all kinds of positive benefits unanticipated and unforeseeable at the outset. Your group may end up the celebrated "A List" of your domain.
Advice - good advice - is of infinite value to every leader, every organization. It makes sense to cultivate it.
Have a great week.