Thoughts from Clore Fellow Jamie Beddard on CLP's first Leadership Development Day, in partnership with Diverse City, Pavilion Dance South West and Arts University Bournemouth
Resilience, innovation and risk-taking were in abundance as eighty-eight cultural leaders from across the South-West gathered in Bournemouth having negotiated storms, flooding and travel chaos. Whilst the apocalyptic scenes outside marginalised smokers to windswept corners, a sense of collaboration, imagination and enthusiasm pervaded the Pavilion. Exploration, community and sustenance were recurrent themes of the day, as we sought to reframe leadership, recasting what ‘leaders might look like’; “pretty damn good in the South-West already” according to conference organiser, Claire Hodgson (Diverse City – Executive Director). Glamorous foundations on which to build!
The speakers, activities and discussions throughout the day demonstrated appetites for new ways of working, connecting and thinking around the landscape of leadership. There was a collective will to break down the geographical, organisational and structural boundaries and silos which are outdated at best, and no longer fit for purpose at worst. By pooling experiences, skills and resources, cascading learning and playing to different strengths, we can become greater than the sum of our parts.
We could, according to Sue Hoyle (Clore Leadership Programme - Director) start to change, through generosity and sharing responsibility, both ‘the leadership of culture and the culture of leadership”. At the heart of these changes is the belief that leadership is an activity, an attitude and way of being, rather than a position, a job or title, couched in values and behaviours rather than status and power. When coupled with realisations that “we are probably better than we think we are”, and that fixations around ‘taking credit’ are unnecessary and unhelpful, new kinds of leadership and leaders will emerge.
Chris Huxley (Arts University, Bournemouth – Senior Lecturer) provoked discussions around our attributes and motivations as leaders, and highlighted synergies between the way we and others perceive our roles as leaders. There was agreement around the failure of traditional hierarchies, and the need to act as catalysts of change through partnership working, mobilising communities and confidently self-identifying as leaders. One delegate underplayed his role as 'driver of the car' for his colleagues for the day, but closer inspection revealed that leadership was core to his work; this fluidity of roles, perceptions and behaviours is increasingly informing how we understand and articulate leadership. According to delegate Becky Chapman, “broad, snaking, agile spheres of influence and leadership are not only valid, but they are powerful, and essential for the long-term health of the arts”. Increasingly anachronistic top-down models of bestowing leadership upon a privileged few, whose performances are judged against a narrow and often incompatible set of indicators, does neither justice to the leader, nor the teams around them.
'Change was the only constant' for Farooq Chaudhry (Akram Khan Dance Company –Producer). He spoke of the aspiration to take himself and others to extraordinary places, the process of converting dreams into realities and the importance of leaders serving a vision rather than themselves. By operating with 'open eyes, heart and head' minefields could be negotiated, ‘beautiful accidents’ experienced, mistakes celebrated and fears conquered. Upon returning to the diving high-board immediately after cracking his head open in front of a shocked worldwide audience, the Olympian Greg Louganis rationalised his fear of failure with the conviction that, "no matter what, my Mum will still love me'. This “awesome simplicity” seemed a fitting contextualisation of the threads that connect life and leadership, vision and reality, heart and head.
Claire Hodgson’s provocation focussed upon those missing from cultural leadership, and the endemic reasons for their absence. The mismatch, for instance, of women across the arts and those holding leadership positions evidences the barriers which continue to prevail; 71% of those who have been through Clore programmes, and 77% of the arts workforce are female, and yet of the 30 leading subsidised cultural institutions of the UK only 4 are run by women. Antiquated ‘9-6pm, desk and office-based’ working is no longer technologically necessary nor financially viable, and traditional career and leadership structures do not capture the skills, experiences and diversity of leadership we require. Task-based, locational-flexible, independent working could re-introduce those excluded, or excluding themselves into the labour and leadership market.
The china tea-cups and saucers which provided warmth and succour throughout the day were non-matching and beautifully idiosyncratic, each imbued with their own design, history and functionality. As a metaphor for the kind of leadership and leaders we seek, these colourful rag-tag of drinking vessels fitted perfectly. Try as I might, I am unable to elongate this metaphor to include the array of cakes, jelly-babies and dolly mixtures we collectively consumed. I will be attending the next meeting!