The Changing Practice of Leadership

“It’s no longer the time of the heroic leader – the leader who walks in and takes up all the space in the room. The job of today’s leader is to create space for other people –a space in which people can generate new and different ideas; a space where seemingly disparate departments and people in the organization come together and have a meaningful conversation; a space in which people can be more effective, more agile, and more prepared to respond to complex challenges.”

The Changing Nature of Leadership, a CCL White Paper

In 2007, the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) conducted a survey of mid and upper level managers across numerous industries, both for profit and nonprofit. 84% of respondents stated that the definition of effective leadership has changed in the past five years. 60% of respondents (that’s three in five!) stated that leaders now face challenges that go beyond their individual capabilities to solve. These findings are hugely important in that leaders can no longer simply ramp up, get stronger, or improve on their own strengths in order to face down the challenges that confront their arts organization. Often, it’s beyond their ability to simply define the challenge—as in itself, it’s no longer simple, but quite complex.

In this same research we learn—once again that, “…prolonged organizational success…tends to breed resistance to change.”

So, let’s get this straight. Highly committed and highly capable leaders are responsible for the extraordinary success in building our national arts ecology, anchored by hundreds of recognizable organizations that have grown continually over the past decades. Yet those same organizations now face challenges that a single leader can no longer figure out and solve. That’s quite a dilemma, and one that demands shifts in our assumptions about  organizations and what they require of their leaders.

According to CCL, in 2002, the three highest rated leadership skills were (in descending order): being individually resourceful, being composed, and being decisive.  In 2007, the same survey indicates that those competencies had fallen closer to the bottom of the list (of eight choices) and were replaced by (again, in descending order): building and mending relationships, change management, and participation management—meaning the  integrating of others into the decision making and strategy development process.

With this data in hand, it’s time to change radically our view of what leaders do and to work collaboratively with them in developing the new competencies required for their  success. We owe them nothing less.


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