Sunday, June 17, 2012

Paternalism and the Emerging Leaders Movement

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on.........................."

Emerging Leaders:
I am writing this on Father's Day, so Happy Father's Day to all.
We've made great progress over the past couple of years in beginning (and I stress beginning) to address the needs of the Emerging Leaders field.  This movement has resulted in new initiatives to recognize and acknowledge the contributions of that cohort.  And in the process we have learned more about how valuable these people's contributions are, how genuinely talented and smart they are, and what they have to offer (now, not somewhere down the line).  We've come far in giving that group a real voice, in providing them with increased networking opportunities and ways to cope with fundamental challenges they face - from career advancement to professional development.  We've provided increased mechanisms for them to grow and given them a seat at the table as it were. We still have a long, long way to go to truly address the issues they face - from the aforementioned professional development to real career advancement, increased decision making options, and a living wage, but we're farther along than we were.

On Father's Day, I'm wondering whether or not we are being too paternalistic in our approach to this field.  Specifically, I wonder whether or not we are isolating these people by relegating them to their own niche as "emerging", and whether or not by confining them to their own 'silo', we might be doing them, and ourselves - at least in part - a disservice.  I am wondering whether we need to more actively integrate them into the whole of our sector.  While I think it has been, and continues to be, essential to provide them with the opportunities, venues and mechanisms to realize their own needs, strengths, and the power of their numbers, I think it somewhat counter productive to continue to keep them separated by relegating them to their own special interest sub-section of the wider field. This seems particularly relevant to one of the biggest issues with which they must grapple - the question of succession and transition into positions of power and influence.   I think we need to do better at including them as our leaders - not just 'emerging', but in the process at least of becoming fully realized.  I think we need to figure out how to continue to focus on their concerns, but at the same time not distance them from the full measure of the rest of us.

I take some satisfaction in having been a part of the emergence of the Emerging Leaders movement with what turned out to be a ground breaking study of this group in the Youth in the Arts reports done several years ago for the Hewlett Foundation - which study was instrumental in the growth and development of the California Emerging Leadership field.  Now I wonder what can be done to move that energy and work forward to insure that we don't keep them too separate from the whole of the field.

I appreciate and continue to support the need for this group to have their own infrastructure and to be able to forge alliances among themselves to advance their interests, but I also hope we can avoid the existence of artificial walls between them and the wider field in that process.

I have heard from a number of those in this classification over the past few months and the opinions voiced to me underscore the feeling that there is a certain danger in putting these people in a silo and of that silo operating outside of the mainstream of our field.  Of course, the impetus to define and identify what should be done from this point forward ought to, and does, rest with these people themselves, and I sense the beginning of some critical thinking on their part to work towards avoiding the isolation that may come from being the beneficiaries (victims?) of a special designation.

I hope that we can begin in earnest to consider ways to continue to provide service to this cohort while simultaneously finding ways to integrate and more successfully involve them in the mainstream of who we are.  I don't think we can afford too vivisectionist an approach to any one sub-sector of the field - a field where are organizations are already divided into numerous classifications based on discipline, geography, and function.  I wouldn't want to see our leadership similarly divided.

NEA and Research:
Kudos to the Endowment for announcing its first ever grant awards for Arts research.  $250,000 went to 15 research projects exploring - according to the agency - three different areas:
  • the impact of the arts on local and/or national economic development,
  • the health and viability of arts and cultural organizations
  • the links between arts engagement and cognitive, social, civic, and behavioral outcomes.
The scope and depth of these projects is impressive as is the diversity of the sponsoring grantees.

This on top of last November's announcement that the Endowment had formed a Federal Interagency Task Force to Promote Research on the Arts and Human Development.  That new cooperative effort is designed to:

  • host a series of quarterly webinars on compelling research and practices;
  • coordinate the distribution of information about funding opportunities for researchers and providers of the arts, health, and education across the lifespan;
  • conduct or commission a gap-analysis and literature review of federally sponsored research on the arts and human development;
  • identify and leverage joint research funding opportunities across agencies;
  • host a convening with researchers and practitioners for professional development and capacity-building in the field of arts and human development
Sometime back I had called for a national summit meeting that would focus on development of a national policy on arts research.  Doubtless the efforts of the NEA were in the pipeline long before that clarion call, and I am very pleased that the agency is stepping forward to take a national leadership position in this critical arena.  I hope at some point they can meld their efforts, goals and policy thinking into a cohesive whole that will also encompass research undertaken by scores of arts organizations, consultants, municipalities  and foundations and we can end up with a written national policy in this area that can intelligently guide our efforts, methodologies, results and evaluations - subject, of course, to periodic changes and updating.  

An excellent beginning and, in my opinion, a major accomplishment for Rocco and the team.  Well done.

Have a good week.

Don't Quit

NOTE:  Two Comments along with my reply to one were inadvertently deleted and including them here at the bottom of the original entry seems the only way I can reinstate them:

Posted by Charles:

I appreciate these thoughts on the Emerging Leader movement. As an emerging leader and member of the Emerging Leader Council, I agree that the movement can sometimes feel a little provincial and separate from the rest of the field, and this can be a disservice to emerging leaders. More integration with the field as a whole should be an essential part of the emerging leader ethos--and I think we're in agreement on this as a "both/and" scenario rather than an "either/or" model.

Too much separation of emerging leaders from--what would we call the others? "leaders"?--cultivates a sense of preciousness about my colleagues. I am eager for the moment when people stop expressing surprise or happiness that we are "smart," "talented," and "valuable." At the end of the day, whether we are "emerging" or "established," we are simply leaders. Yet no one lauds our established colleagues as "smart," "talented," or "valuable." The implication is, of course, that all established leaders are assumed to have these qualities and so they need no special mention.

While the emerging leader movement has provided an essential opportunity for national and local professional development, networking, and education for emerging leaders, I worry it also also reinforced the chasm that previously existed. I would welcome more discussion on how to bridge this gap together.

Posted Anonymously:
Perhaps part of your problem in feeling like the Emerging Leaders are “siloed” is that you don’t even seem clear on what the Emerging Leaders Network is. You refer to EL’s as “field”, a “niche”, a “movement”, and a “special interest sub-section of the wider field.”
EL’s are indeed already a part of the “field.” They work right alongside you and other established leaders. Yes, we have professional development and networking opportunities that cater to our own interests and needs, but usually in a way that helps us advance in the field, not as some sub-section of the field. For instance, last year, through the Emerging Leaders Network, I participated in a wonderful year-long mentoring program with a senior leader in the field. Next week I will be attending a panel discussion, led by top executives in our field, about what recruiters are looking for in senior leadership positions. Through the Emerging Leader Network, I have had the opportunity to network with and learn from my colleagues, whether they are senior leaders, or emerging ones like myself.
Or, perhaps you are confused about the Emerging Leaders Network because you think that it is occupied by “youth.” I am still confused by the title “Youth in the Arts” as a report about emerging leaders. While I might be youthful compared to some of my most senior colleagues, as a 30-something, I hardly qualify as a “youth.” I find these types of reports and discussions condescending at best.
While I agree with you that we have room for improving relationships between generations in our workplace, and we definitely need to still figure how to offer livable wages and advancement opportunities for entry to mid-career professionals in our field, I think that you have grossly misstated that the biggest problem facing the Emerging Leaders Network is their own silo. Perhaps you should volunteer as a panelist or mentor at a network in your area to see what’s really happening with this silo/niche/field/movement/special interest sub-section.

My response to Anonymous:

You seem angry.  You, of course, have every right to your ‘opinion’ as do I to mine, but this would seem to me less of an ad hominem attack were you to bear in mind that your point of view is simply an opinion - not fact, not the gospel, but what you think.  One would hope you would be open enough to allow other people to offer their opinion too. I would have more respect for your opinion were you to have submitted this comment under your name, rather than hiding behind the cloak of anonymity (and, dear readers, while I am publishing this comment as I wish to respond - in the future - as a policy - I will not publish anonymous comments.  If you have something to say - even if that something is highly critical of what I might say - I will always publish the comment, but only if you are willing to own it as your thinking.)  Moreover, charging me with having a “problem” is really quite offensive and doesn’t speak very highly as to your people or diplomatic skills.  Your problem is that you are an intellectual bully; you want to shout the opposition down - not with facts, but with yelling.  I would respectfully submit to you that if you really want to have a career in this field you ought to consider toning down your rhetoric and at least criticize in a civil manner.  That you find well reasoned and intentioned studies that essentially report what your peers say they need and want, and tell why - in their own words - as “condescending” is frankly ridiculous (btw have you ever even read the report?) Get over yourself already and lose the arrogant attitude.  No one is your enemy here - believe it or not, we are trying to help you.  

So to reply to your comment:  First I understand perfectly what the Emerging Leaders Network is all about.  I have long supported the effort of not only the Americans for the Arts version of that network, but countless local, state and regional efforts of scores of other groups within the wider nonprofit arts field.  I have sat on numerous panels and been involved in meetings and conferences on this subject.  I will defend my credentials as someone well versed in this area and as someone who has been completely supportive of the effort against yours or anyone else’s at any time.  Of course, not having any idea who you are makes it difficult to assess your background and qualifications.  This blog post was in no way intended as an attack on the Emerging Arts Leader Network, nor to disparage, or marginalize in any way the value and need for that effort or the hard work done by countless people - both young and old in moving it forward.

Whether you like it or not, the whole of that Emerging Arts Leaders effort is a niche, a sub-section of the larger sector, a special interest group.  There is nothing pejorative about that designation; it merely recognizes the reality that there is no one monolithic whole to the nonprofit arts industry.    We are an amalgam, an aggregate of various disparate parts of the whole.  Established boomer aged senior leaders are likewise a niche and special interest group - they are simply not organized formally as “Senior Leaders”.  The challenge is that the ‘emerging leaders’ sub-section of the wider arts field - while obviously part of that wider field - has not yet been fully assimilated into the mainstream of the field’s leadership, and it is (respectfully submitted) naive to think that because you work along side the more established leadership that they fully accept you and that you are not in your own niche.  There existed, and still exists, a generational problem within our field as to leadership (which problem bears on succession issues), and virtually every emerging leader I have ever met recognizes that challenge.  One of the purposes of the emerging leader effort (in addition to providing them with a platform, networking options, and a way to address issues they self-identify as important to them) is to help that cohort gain wider acceptance and appreciation from the more established leadership so that they may more quickly have decision making opportunities and increased chances to learn and advance.  The lack of those opportunities was a complaint voiced quite loudly in the focus groups done for my report on Youth in Art and echoed in numerous other studies (and btw when that study was undertaken it’s title was probably not the best choice for it may have inadvertently implied that only young people qualified for the emerging leader designation - my profound apologies.)

This blog was meant to ask whether or not relegating those leaders who are identified as “emerging” to a specifically entitled grouping is subverting, to some small extent, the stated goal of advancing the careers of those people.  It may not be the most important question to ask, but it is a legitimate question - despite your complaints to the contrary.  I am not sure why you find that question to be so offensive.  

Finally, I never stated that the ‘siloing’ of emerging leaders was the biggest problem facing the ELN - only that I wondered - out loud - whether or not the designation might be of a disservice to everyone as needless pigeon-holing of people. Perhaps YOU should read things more carefully before you make specious and unfounded charges.  And finally, again - do something to curb your anger.  

See the comment above for a different take by one of your peers.