“And the beat goes on……................…”
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This one is a little long – but it's a fair highlight of a much longer week long blog on Americans for the Arts.
EMERGING LEADERSHIP ISSUES and THE GENERATIONAL DIVIDE:
Last week Americans for the Arts’ ARTS BLOG (go to previous pages to read entries chronologically) featured a really wonderful discussion on Emerging Leader issues. (Kudos to AFTA for the quality of their growing Arts Blog feature).
Most of the participants were emerging leaders themselves and much of the discussion centered on some of their shared frustrations in career advancement. Other parts of the discussion focused on the need for more professional development opportunities, on positioning our organizations to benefit from that which the class of emerging leaders offers us as a sector, and finally some advice to follow. And perhaps, most importantly, there were some unanswered, yet critically fundamental questions asked as to how we can proceed to deal with these challenges. Most of the participant's observations in this online discussion mirrored the findings of the report on Youth Involvement in the Arts I did for the Hewlett Foundation, and I would again like to thank all of those who have helped leverage that report with other efforts to make Emerging Leadership and the challenges and obstacles a truly "front burner" issue.
While I think (hope) many across our sector had a chance to follow at least some of this week long blogathon, as is usual in these events, few had (or took) the time to comment. Moreover, and emblematic I think of one of the biggest challenges emerging leaders and the whole sector faces in this issue (and see the final comment included herein by Letitia Ivins) -- this was a discussion principally by and between the emerging leaders themselves, with little input from the current boomer generation of leaders that control virtually all of the organizations for which these emerging leaders work and which they may aspire to someday lead.
Here then are just some of the insightful postings from the AFTA Blog participants and from those who commented on those postings (and I often think the comments are as, if not more, interesting than the initial blog postings) which I found thought provoking and on target. I offer some thoughts on moving forward in this arena at the end of these blog participant entries and comments.
ON THE OBSTACLES TO ARTS ADMINISTRATION AS A CAREER PATH:
Tommer Peterson wondered: “Where are the young MBAs and nonprofit management grads? They seem to gravitate to entry-level positions in the larger arts institutions. Wouldn’t it be more fun to be the big fish in the small pond? When I started in this field (arts, not philanthropy) we all just made it up as we went along. A whole generation of arts leaders learned their jobs on the street and received fine educations along the way. I am a little worried that the generation of trained specialists is missing the good experience of not knowing all the rules and best practices.”
Michael Futter responded with a not uncommon refrain that I heard frequently in the Hewlett study: “After going through training, and racking up the accompanying student loans, many of us look at the field and have a decision to make: do we find a position with stable nonprofit or do we join a nascent organization that can’t reliably compensate us. For a lot of us, it isn’t a choice. We have debt and holding a pay check (or not receiving one at all) just isn’t an option.”
Marc Vogl put forth a hypothetical wherein an arts administrator (call her “Tina”) leaves the field. Then asked: “If we understand that the quality and impact of the art that is presented ‘onstage’ is a function of the resourcefulness and imagination of everyone working ‘backstage,’ then why do we funders, arts organization managers and board members, arts advocates and artists accept Tina leaving so easily? And how well do we really understand why Tina or left, or what it would take to get the next Tina to stay?"
Clay Lord responded by citing another common complaint: “Emerging leaders feel stymied by a lack of movement at the top — current leaders can’t or won’t retire. There is often a feeling of disrespect on the part of the current arts leaders — a perception that emerging leaders are impatient, not ready, and essentially rude in assuming that they deserve that leadership role. This is only exacerbated by the number of small arts organizations with a relatively flat structure, which essentially means that an emerging leader jumps into a role of some responsibility, grows into it, and then discovers that the next step is actually either up to the top or out. It’s a hard question, how to keep people with talent and voracious appetite for responsibility engaged in a community that has a limited number of high-level positions (especially when the compensation isn’t there to make a holding pattern more palatable).”
Dewey Schott added: “Our field doesn’t have a strong tradition of providing professional development and leadership development, but rather has a tradition of learn-on-your-own/trial-and-error culture. I think we’re at a point in time where emerging leaders aren’t as accepting of the tradition. A lot of our organizations are so small that there isn’t much of a “ladder” to climb, so they go sideways to another arts organization that can provide the next set of learning experiences. The problem is: what happens once they are in? Are they trained properly? Taken seriously? Are they prepared to take on new challenges with the right tools and the right information? Is there adequate support? Is power and influence being shared with them? Does their contribution meaningful?"
Shannon Daut opined - in considering that boomer EDs just move from one gig to another but never leave: “For the most part, today’s emerging (and mid-career) administrators have not been able to benefit from an environment that would take risks on “unproven” job candidates. Part of this is likely due to the fact that arts institutions have grown to such an extent that the boards and leadership have understandably become more risk averse. But what we are doing is ostensibly punting the risk just further down the road—at some point these leaders will be heading arts organizations and institutions, yet they will have not benefited from former leadership experience.
I think there will come a time in the not-too-distant future where we embrace the fact that emerging leaders are crucial to helping the field advance in our contemporary culture. And that the most risky thing of all is to not consider the approaches to the arts that emerging leaders are espousing.”
Mike Bigley added: “There isn’t the sense of upward mobility within organizations, and today’s 20- and 30-somethings are known to job hop, looking for the next career move.”
ON THE NEED, WANT AND RESPONSE TO THE CRY FOR MORE PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT AND TRAINING OF EMERGING LEADERS:
Shannon Daut offered that: “The onus for professional development must lay both in the hands of organizational leadership and in the hands of emerging leaders themselves. For organizational leadership, this could be as simple as a shift in mentality. Younger generations will play an instrumental role in this process (they already are!), whether or not the existing arts leadership taps their input and expertise. I see two possible outcomes here—either the existing arts leadership actively solicits and heeds the perspectives of emerging leaders, or the emerging leaders will do it themselves, outside of the “establishment”. Going back to the needed mentality shift, I want to stress that the worst thing well-meaning, seasoned leaders could do is support leadership development with the assumption that the result will be a continuation of the established ways of doing things. Supporting the development of emerging leaders must include a genuine commitment to being receptive to new ways of thinking and operating. While this may be difficult for some, it will be crucial to the future of the arts field.
Leadership development can take many forms, but the most effective approaches are comprised of a seasoned leader who “gets it” and values the perspectives of younger generations, coupled with an emerging leader that (appropriately, not arrogantly) recognizes their own value and will advocate on behalf of their own career.”
Edward Clapp, in a response to a posting by Deena Epstein, lamenting the unwillingness of boomer leaders to “extend themselves as mentors or even consider these young people as peers for peer-to-peer learning” offered that: (There) “is a hunger from young people to engage in mentoring relationships with their superiors. This hunger is due to a paucity of mentoring that is actually occurring in the field. In addition to having much to learn, younger arts professionals have much to teach their senior colleagues! For this reason, individuals in the field need to consider “mentoring up” as an important part of the exchange of knowledge and expertise that will drive all members of the field forward, and help us be far more efficacious in our work.”
Katherine Denny responded to a posting by Jeanne Sakamoto citing of the need of emerging leaders for more professional development and training opportunities: ”Emerging arts leaders are always hungry for more. As a whole the sector is growing, learning, and maturing. My advice for providing them opportunities is twofold: 1. whenever possible, make these opportunities free or at low-cost; and 2. consider potential duplication of services.”
Tara Scroggins added to that thought: “By accessible, I don’t just mean low cost or free (which is important), but also accessible in terms of time and location. I find that some of the current generation of EDs are skeptical of the value of professional development events and are hesitant to let employees have time off of work to attend. I can only postulate if this is related to the belief held by some that no amount of education can replace “working your way up.”
And as to the nature of what kind of professional development emerging arts leaders really need, Edward Clapp said: “I think that it is important to make emerging arts leaders knowledgeable of currents arts business structures, but ultimately believe that we will need to look for radical new systems in order to ensure the survival of the arts in the decades to come. Literature on leadership and adult development indicates that addressing adaptive challenges (those that require conceptual change) with technical fixes (traditional expertise) is a recipe for stasis at best, collapse at worst. While we consider supporting our emerging leaders, we should not only educate them in the ways of our field as it operates today, but also put the problems of our industry back on them; for there is great innovation and ingenuity that lies within our younger arts professionals, much of it that exists in the blind spots of our most seasoned arts leaders.”
In response to another post, he further opined that: “I think the future of our sector will depend upon a sharing of knowledge and information within and across generational age cohorts, with knowledge and expertise being passed down from above as well as surfacing up from below and being exchanged laterally across individuals in different scenarios operating at comparable levels of practice. It’s long been time that younger arts professionals transition from being seen as mere vessels of latent talent and opportunity to active authority figures with their own thoughts and perspectives to share.”
ON POSITIONING OUR ORGANIZATIONS TO ADDRESS THE CHALLENGES OF GENERATIONAL WORKPLACE MANAGEMENT AND SUCCESSION ISSUES?
Ebony McKinney wondered if we can get to the point where current boomer leaders can appreciate the concerns of emerging leaders when she asked: “In the future will employers begin to make up for notoriously modest non-profit paychecks with contracts that include flex time for work that furthers your artistic practice and raises the profile of your employer? Or will wages become more competitive? How might more sophisticated use of office technology, including virtual file sharing, Google wave, and the Cultural Data Project change the way business is done?
Will the Emerging Leader Network’s “circle of influence” help replace the hierarchies that we are used to, and allow us to have deeper and more meaningful collaborations and partnerships across the country? Will shared leadership or co-leadership models rise in popularity to cope with unwieldy executive director positions? Could two-way, intergenerational mentorship help to bridge knowledge gaps, in both traditional and cutting-edge skills? Is a more holistic culture of learning possible? Achievable? Desirable? What new organizational models will catch on?”
Cora Mirikitani asked if arts administrators might learn some lessons from entrepreneurial artists and address some of those needs: “Imagine a nonprofit arts workplace that honors and rewards the individual “artistry” of emerging and next generation arts leaders – perhaps taking the form of technological and web 2.0 savvy. Or nonprofit arts employee policies that support a more flexible life/work balance. Or foundation grant opportunities that invest in next generation arts leaders to run new kinds of arts enterprises and models, rather than old ones. Given what the arts field already knows how to support and nurture individual artists to great ends, I think.”
Marc Vogl used the analogy of the Jewish Seder to consider the role younger generations might play: “Who is responsible for periodically stepping in and asking the elemental but critical questions? In the Seder it’s the kids who sing out to the elders: ‘why are we doing things the way we’re doing things’? And it is for everyone around the table to respond, and hopefully, to reflect for a moment on the history that informs that response, to consider the present circumstances and how times have changed, and maybe even to look ahead and determine what we can do going forward so that we don’t spend another year going through rote motions and taking important things (like freedom in the case of Passover, or making art that has meaning for those of us in this field) for granted."
Aliza Greenberg agreed with Marc: It’s important “for young people in the arts to have a place where they can ask questions and try out ideas without having to have them fully formed yet. So often we feel pressure (to) present things in finished form. In large conversations with leaders we want our comments to impress. At the inter-generational event that is the Seder, the same questions are asked every year. No pressure to be new and different or to bring the “unique perspective of a young person.” Just to ask the questions and explore.”
Rosetta Thurman suggested Leadership is a verb, not a noun: “What if we stopped trying to limit the parameters around who is capable of practicing leadership? A leader could be the President of the organization, but it could also very well be that college intern you hire for the summer who changes the way a program is run. Leadership scholar Ron Heifetz has said has that because you cannot truly predict who will practice leadership, you have to look for leadership in action by everyone involved in an organization or a sector. Ron also points out that we often make the mistake of equating leadership with authority. But leadership is not the same as authority. Leadership is not the fancy title on you business card. Leadership is what you do. Emerging leaders ask permission. They think they have to. Current leaders do what they know to be the right thing for the organization and ask for forgiveness later. And guess what? They rarely need it.”
Selena Juneau-Vogel thought this: “On one hand I believe any time invested in thinking about leadership is worthwhile. On the other hand, we should not expect classroom-based, curriculum-driven instruction to work in a vacuum. Whatever combination of the words “leadership,” “management,” “academy,” “institute,” “fellowship,” or even, “university” we use, if we think packing ourselves off to leader camp for a day or a week is some sort of silver-bullet solution to either our demands for professional development or our organization’s whimperings for change then we are sorely mistaken.
Yes—we can read about and listen to mantras on teamwork, ethics, giving and receiving feedback, results-based decision making, strategic planning, emotional intelligence, and business acumen but without a complimentary system with which to practice these skills are we really supporting leadership development? No amount of leadership lecturing can help a young manager who is returning to an organization that doesn’t want to change.”
And Marc Vogl offered that while we want emerging leaders to be free to be creative, we still want them to have basic training skills: “I neither want to diminish what can be achieved when you’re self-taught (Jimi played the guitar pretty well, even if he strung it backwards) but neither do I want to glorify what it’s like to hit your head against a wall (or the Filemaker Pro Database manual) knowing that there is a smarter, faster way to get something done. Is there a healthy balance to be struck? I think so. Are mentorships, skill building classes, and networks part of the answer?”
ADVICE FOR THE CURRENT BOOMER GENERATION OF ENTRENCHED LEADERS:
Ian David Moss concluded in one post on the seemingly unequal relationship between bosses and employees: “The balance of power may be unequal on paper. But in the case of both bosses/emerging leaders and funders/grantees, the best outcomes are to be achieved by treating it as equal in practice – and recognizing the relationship for what it truly is: a partnership toward a common future.”
Joshua Russell made what I thought was a really good analogy to baseball’s farm system: “Think about it, you’ve got Single A (new to the field), Double A (a couple of years of experience), Triple A (established emerging leaders, ready to step into a leadership position) and the Major Leagues (leaders of arts and cultural organizations). You have to stock talent in all levels of your farm system. If you have a great Triple A team, then your team might be good for the next couple of years but you can then expect a big drop off from there. So, it is critical for us as we build our network that we look to identify talent and future leaders on all ends of the spectrum.”
Tommer Peterson offered that Knot Knowing the Ropes can be an asset: “Go ahead and take a chance on the younger applicant. Sometimes people can walk through walls because they don’t know they are there.” The image has stuck with me for years. Walk through walls because they didn’t know they were there. How often did I not pursue a line of a creative solution because of a barrier that I perceived to be a barrier? How often did I assume something was impossible based on what someone more experienced had told me? How often was that later proved to be wrong. There are areas, like IRS regulations for example, where knowing the ropes can be very important. There are others, like program development, planning, creative endeavors, etc., where we need to make sure we give emerging practitioners enough latitude to shine.”
Marc Vogl took a sector wide funder perspective: “As a funder working for a program whose mission is to support an arts ecosystem, and not specific arts organizations, the salient unit of analysis for me is the sector. My problem is not whether the E.D. at Organization X has been in charge for 25 years, the next two senior managers have been there 15 years and the other 2-10 people on staff are in their 20s and turnover every 1-2 years; my problem is that when those 2-10 other people on staff leave Organization X they may not go to Organization Y and, instead, leave the arts field altogether. And when they go they are taking with them whatever investment Organization X made in their professional development, their accrued experience, and the professional networks they’ve cultivated and their own creativity and passion for the arts to deploy somewhere else. Organizations that are not attentive to the career goals of their younger staff and capable of making space for the bright lights they have on board to matriculate into positions where they not only have responsibility but real authority, will continue to struggle to hang on to those talents.”
AND FINALLY DRILLING DOWN TO THE CORE ISSUES NECESSARY TO REALLY MOVE FORWARD:
Michael Bigley asked one of the most profound questions of the week: “Do people really care about the needs of the next generation, other than the next generation itself?”
And Letitia Ivins, noting the same frequent observation by her contemporaries as did those did in my report – the need for Xers and Millennials to balance work & life. And wondered: “Do boomers understand?”
It is to Michael Bigley’s and Letitia Ivins’ questions that I wish to respond – because they together imply a fundamental observation – change will come about very slowly, if at all, if only the younger generation cares about and understands today’s generational issues. No, Michael and Leitia, I don’t think (yet anyway) enough of the Boomers in power, really care about or fully appreciate the needs of the next generation. You guys are still, I fear, still out there alone to a large degree. I think that is changing, but there is a long ways to go. Blogathons and panels at conferences as well as institutional mandates such as foundation information required in grant applications are all changing people’s thinking, but all those efforts are still a scattergun approach and not a systemic effort to change perceptions and attitudes of those older generations in power to the issues of those younger generations coming up in the ranks. And until those attitudes change, efforts to move forward on the generational issues will stall – no matter how organized, empowered, vocal (or funded) our emerging leaders are. We can help hundreds of the new leaders, no doubt, but across California and the whole country, there are tens of thousands of them. Time is an issue here too.
As an older Boomer, much of this seems like déjà vu to me. Today’s Gen Xers’ and Millennials’ complaints towards, and frustrations with, those currently in positions of power echo exactly the sentiments my generation expressed as forcefully as we could back in the 60’s. Move over, step aside, give us a chance, share the power, we’re at your doorstep and we are different from you. We have a lot to offer that you are missing out on; the world is changing now. Delegate some decision making to us. We're not the enemy. Help us to grow into leadership positions instead of being so resistant.
“Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command,
Your old world is rapidly fading,
Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand,
For the times, they are a changing.”
If anything we were less willing to compromise, more strident, more impatient, and more insistent. Like today’s emerging generations we were stymied by the reluctance of those in power to even try to appreciate our positions, our thinking, even our feelings. After all, we were their children, and they were so resistant. Why? For what? It made so little sense to us. I am sure much of today’s reactions makes little sense to current Xers and Millennials.
And now, all this time later, here we are – the Boomers - fully in power and being accused (and rightly or wrongly, please understand that for many it actually feels like an accusation) of the same intransigence, the same reluctance to share, the same myopia, the same stubbornness, the same blind eye.
Many of my generation are simply too busy to even see what is going on, too involved to recognize or acknowledge the issues for the emerging leaders on the way up, too involved to really “get it”. Many of them have forgotten what it was like when they were younger. Based on the older cohort focus groups’ discussions as part of the Hewlett study and based on countless anecdotal stories and observations I have heard over the past couple of years – there are many boomer arts leaders (astounding as it may seem to some) who do not even see the generational divide as an issue; who do not appreciate the frustrations of the class of emerging leaders moving up (even from employees in their own organizations) or acknowledge or accept them as important; who may see the issue but do not appreciate how critical and impactful it is; and, who believe the upcoming generation should stop complaining, be patient, pay their dues and be more of a team player. It isn’t that that last group of boomers are stupid, or hard-hearted – rather they remember how they had to pay their dues, bide their time, suffer their waiting period, and have come to the conclusion that this is how the world works, how it has always worked, how it best works, and that the current crop of new leaders will ultimately be fine and will get to this exact same point themselves at sometime in the future.
I personally disagree. I am one of those who believe that if we are smart, we will let go of that antiquated notion that each upcoming generation must pay their dues and should just shut up in the short run. I believe that if we can figure out how to manage the generational divide in the workplace to everyone’s satisfaction and mutual benefit, we as a sector stand to benefit enormously and that if we don’t figure out how to do this, we will only suffer. That is not to suggest that we can actually find a path that makes everybody equally happy, but, in my opinion, we most certainly can find solutions to the challenges and address everyone’s concerns and complaints in a way that makes everyone confident in the commitment to inclusion and the worth and value of everyone in our workplaces. I believe the current boomer leadership is well advised to acknowledge the generational issues and work to address them for the benefit of everyone - and most importantly to the very organizations they run - for we will benefit from new ideas to new problems, new thinking and new energy.
And while I am clearly not alone in this belief, I concede that manyof the boomers aren’t yet even part of any conversation about this issue because they haven’t yet been brought into this circle.
A problem in our sector is that we have grown over the past few decades so that we are no longer Tommer Peterson's dinosaur world and "cottage industry" wherein new leaders are welcome to invent, for the first time, new rules and protocols. We are now more of an established field with a lot of things codified and set almost in stone as it were. Big pond, small pond - it doesn't matter, there are fewer and fewer opportunities to rethink and reinvent things. At least that is the perception to younger generations. A big problem for Xers and Millennials is that the boomers set about inventing a whole lot of stuff - including the nonprofit arts - and now they are struck with that invention. Reinventing it will be axiomatically more difficult because the boomers are so reluctant to cede them any real authority and to even entertain the notion that it is time to reinvent much of what is now tired, dated and frankly, just doesn't work all that well anymore. But much like the music industry, of which I was a part for many years, the arts sector must realize that even though it is no longer a "garage based business" (and that's how the record business, like the computer business, and even our nonprofit arts business started), it desperately now needs to allow for new ideas and new approaches much like it were still in its infancy -- for everything has changed and we are now squarely faced with looking at almost all of our models (funding, structure, marketing, distribution, access, audiences, and beyond) in a new light if we are to both survive and again, even thrive. I suggest we boomers have to set about to make room for younger generation new ideas; both those new ideas and the process of accepting those new ideas are, it seems to me, crucial for us solving some very difficult challenges that lie ahead.
I think a good first step to consider (and this was the single most endorsed, consensus based conclusion in the whole Hewlett Focus Group study – the number one recommendation of participating boomers, Xers and Millennials) would be to provide educational training to the current boomer arts leadership (to inform and sensitize them) to the issues of generational management and what is and isn’t important to emerging leaders and why -- so that they can see the potential consequences of a failure to act, and acknowledge, understand and appreciate what this means to them and to their organizations short and long term. Boomers may be preoccupied and have biases and prejudices, but they aren’t stupid. Many simply haven’t had it pointed out to them in a way they will hear and take to heart that there are issues here. And that the current generational issues may, in fact, be a little different from those of a generation ago. Others are reluctant to change their perspectives when the challenge comes from below and not from their own peers. But training works. That training however, (and on this point too there was near universal agreement in the focus groups) cannot come from Xers and Millennials – but will likely only work if it comes laterally from other Boomers. If they don’t hear emerging leaders to begin with, they aren’t likely to hear them on the critical point that there are problems. (That is why the participation of even a couple of Boomers on this blogathon was valuable I think). We need, as a first step to other steps, to make the current crop of boomer leaders part of the solution and not let them remain as part of the problem.
So I urge those working so diligently to move forward with policies and practices that will make all the generations in the arts workplaces happier and more productive, to consider offering training that will educate and sensitize the existing Boomer leader class to the issues in the generational divide in the arts sector workplace. - remind them of the differences in the generation gap, and what it was like when they were young and upward bound, and to show them how to manage those differences effectively. And I would argue that if we don’t do that training of the boomers now – then much of our efforts to empower and enable the emerging leadership will be frustrated by not only stone walls and glass ceilings from above, but by a lack of interest in the problem and challenge to begin with. If current arts leaders want to help emerging arts leaders, one thing they can do is to help change the prevailing leadership attitudes about the unimportance of generational issues – and try to do that in a systemic way.
I am pleased that some out there agree with this position. I have been invited by Westaf to make an abbreviated presentation -- to a meeting of the state arts agency directors in the West -- of a training seminar based on what I have learned doing the Hewlett study and my involvement in these issues over the past four years -- designed to sensitize, educate and inform all the generations in the arts workplace (but in particular my brother boomers) to the positions and concerns of the other generations and how senior leadership can effectively manage the conflicting generational needs (and benefit enormously thereby) -- - with an eye to offering this workshop in their states. Already, Bob Booker in Arizona has asked me to present that workshop to a statewide gathering of arts leaders in Arizona this summer. And there is growing interest in doing this here in California. I am hopeful I can interest more people here and in other states in this approach as one thing to do to move forward quicker.
Please take some time and check out the Emerging Leaders blogathon of last week. There is a lot there. I congratulate all of the participants and those who took the time to comment. I am encouraged and buoyed by the fact that there are so many intelligent thinkers out there among our emerging leaders.
Have a great week.