Sunday, February 14, 2010


Hello everyone.

"And the beat goes on.............."


I see lots of courses on marketing, fundraising, board development, and even strategic planning and how to adjust and adapt to the changing economic times. But I see virtually nothing about that whole other side of being an effective leader – how to manage people and the whole workplace environment. The focus group project I did for the Hewlett Foundation on Youth Involvement in the Arts brought to light a litany of complaints from Millennial and even Generation X employees about the lack of skills level of their “bosses” in the nonprofit arts sector in just relating to the ‘perceived’ needs of their younger employees.

Here is a list of common complaints of younger employees across the whole of American business as set forth by Jeff Schmitt in a January 26, 2010 Yahoo online article entitled “BAD BOSSES, WHAT KIND ARE YOU?” as provided by Business Week magazine (included are a some additional thoughts of mine based on my experience in our field and from the focus groups in the Hewlett study).


1. You Don’t Know Your Job:

“You’re out of touch with how the organization really works on a day to day basis. You can’t run the whole organization until you have more of an understanding as to how each of the parts of the organization function, and you seem to have little interest in learning that”. You don’t keep up with cutting edge changes and your own training is years old.

2. You Don’t Listen:

“You interrupt constantly to make your points. And you roll your eyes and grow impatient—unless you're talking. No matter, you disregard our input anyway. So we've given up; we don't come to you anymore. And we both suffer for it. If you want to succeed, rebuild that goodwill. It'll require time and toil, but the best relationships always do.” Saying you have an open door policy isn’t the same thing as actually having one.

3. You’re Close Minded:

“You're gifted and accomplished, the best and brightest. And that has made you susceptible to pride. Now, you're quick to reach conclusions. Everything is one-sided, with no room for discussion, differences, or dissent. You may view yourself as all-knowing, but conditions change. And talent doesn't stand for "my way or the highway.” We don’t want to be exclusively the instrumental pawns in your grand scheme of things. We want to have a voice and contribute. You tell us to think outside the box, but all the decisions are made inside the box, and we aren't allowed access to that place.

4. Poor Preparation:

"Another emergency meeting. Drop what you're doing, they need it now. We're changing direction and working late again. It's always last minute, make it up as you go along. Maybe it fosters teamwork and creativity sometimes, but you can only cry wolf so many times. In reality, the unexpected drama reflects your inability to set expectations, plan ahead, and think it through. And it's just wearing us down."

5. You Don’t Help Us Build Our Skills:

"People are our most important asset." Well, it's empty rhetoric here. Maybe you want to be hands-off or encourage self-reliance. Whatever the intent, you're not helping us grow. And that's your real job as a manager: to broaden our outlook, push us beyond our comfort zones, exemplify the (organization’s) values, and focus us on learning, serving, persevering, leading, and advancing. Don't take that responsibility lightly.” If we can’t expand our skills level, and become better managers ourselves, you’ve just removed one of the big incentives to being here at all.

6. You’re Overzealous:

“History remembers the tyrants but rarely the subjects who did the heavy lifting. It's no different here. You've created a divide-and-conquer atmosphere, all stick and no carrot, where everyone should be the same workaholic reflection of you. Eventually, your bullying and rah-rah intensity produces one question: "Why?" You may think we should be in "for life," but what are you giving back in return for that blind loyalty?” Maybe you don’t have (or want) a life outside this job, but we do, and we want to live it now, not when we retire.

7. You Don’t Maintain Discipline:

“All the workers come and go as they please, living according to their own rules. No one knows who is where or doing what, and the result is chaos. Maybe you want to be our buddy—or experience how a sweat shop atmosphere fosters only resentment. Either way, coddling does no favors to anyone. Like it or not, you need to set rules and hold people accountable.” And while we’re at it, having your own favorites breeds contempt and suspicion among those of us who aren’t in the ‘club’.

8. You’re Tactless:

“Your talent and tenure shields you from scrutiny. Sadly, your lack of self-awareness results in everyone—superiors and reports—maligning or marginalizing you. Brains take you only so far; eventually, you'll need to build and nurture relationships. And that requires people skills: listening, charming, understanding, and compromising”. It would go a long way, if you could at least try to remember what it was like down here in the trenches.

9. You Lack Influence and Credibility:

“It's funny how we're usually last to get face time and resources. Look at your variables: appearance, body language, and speaking and writing styles. Do you always convey the image of a polished professional who can work in a team and get the job done? If you can't, you'll never get anyone's ear.” Actions speak louder than words.

10. You Blindside Us:

“Ah, there's nothing like a surprise. Whether you're singling us out in public or ambushing us in private, you're not afraid to render judgments and deliver lectures. Despite our qualifications and track records, you still treat us as servants. Instead of dropping the news all at once, give us fair warning when our performance doesn't meet expectations. Always take action immediately—and discreetly.”

Since the publication of the Hewlett study, there has been a groundswell of activity in directing resources and energies at providing services, infrastructure, guidance and counsel to the next generation of arts leadership – all across the country. But I don’t yet see much energy, resources and thinking directed at educating the current leadership as to how they might better and more effectively manage the generational divide in the workplace of the average arts organization. I applaud the direction foundations and others are taking in supporting the efforts of the next generations to organize and mobilize themselves as a smart way to insure we pay attention to the issues that will determine how well we provide access to future leadership within our structure. But I caution that for us to make real progress on a faster track it will also be necessary to provide some resources and energy directed at informing, educating and training those who are now the “bosses” as to how to be better bosses and in so doing help to make sure we are fostering the best environment we can to attract, recruit, train and keep the next generation of arts leaders.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit!