Must Reads

National Arts Strategies

Selected readings for arts and culture leaders from National Arts Strategies and the Getty Leadership Institute


Governance-Themed Readings

Good to Great and the Social Sectors: Why Business Thinking is Not the Answer

James C. Collins, (Boulder: Jim Collins, 2005), Monograph to accompany Good to Great.

A short read—an essay really—this piece adapts the principles of Good to Great to the nonprofit sector. Collins addresses five issues: defining greatness, the exercise of leadership within a diffuse power structure, getting the right people “on the bus” (many wish he had added a section on getting the wrong people “off the bus”), rethinking economics in a sector without a profit motive and building momentum by building the brand. Collins emphasizes discipline and sustainability.

Collins’ little red book has been widely and usefully read by executive directors of museums and managing directors of performing arts organizations. It has added value to their professional development as leaders. However, they have paid little attention to the book’s very important subtitle, Why Business Thinking Is Not the Answer, and, therefore, the book’s high potential for stimulating a shift in a board’s default mantra. Collins, highly respected in the for-profit world, offers an at-a-glance summary of the crucial differences between business and the social sectors.

Available online »


Leadership Without Easy Answers

Ronald Heifetz, (Cambridge: Belknap/Harvard University Press, 1994), "Creative Deviance on the Frontline," pp. 183-206.

Some of the greatest achievements in history have been brought about by people who were not in positions of authority. Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi are just two examples of informal leadership affecting large-scale change. Informal leaders are those who see a problem and go beyond their station of authority to address it. There can be many benefits to leading outside the constraints of authority, such as the ability to raise uncomfortable questions, focus on a single issue and gain frontline information. This last point is critical. Informal leaders are closer to their stakeholders and therefore gain a detailed perspective on the group’s thoughts, feelings, values and habits. Those in formal positions of authority often operate at too great a distance to be able to glean this valuable information.

This selection from Ronald Heifetz’s Leadership Without Easy Answers discusses the differences between leadership and authority. Heifetz uses historical figures as examples of how some informal leaders—such as Margaret Sanger and Gandhi—have ultimately taken on formal roles of authority by gaining the trust and admiration of the people. His thinking may be particularly useful in considering the power dynamics when dealing with boards.

Getting a front line perspective is something that nonprofit organizations strive to achieve. However, this can be difficult due to the constraints and politics involved with a formal system of leadership. Reading this chapter, we wonder how these organizations could benefit from creating a culture where dissenting opinions and a breadth of ideas are heard. Perhaps the next best idea for your organization will come not from the head of the table, but from your customers themselves.

Available online »


Leading with Passion: Change Management in the 21st Century Museum

Serene Suchy, (Walnut Creek: Altamira Press, 2004), "Trust, the Director-Trustee Interface," pp. 125-149.

Dr. Suchy exclusively focuses on art museums. Nevertheless, based on her extensive interviews with 42 directors of international art museums, she describes a four-part leadership model that could apply equally to all cultural organizations. First, represent the organization internally and externally based on your passion. Second, create a context for others to do their best coaching and team building. Third, act as an ethical entrepreneur to ensure the organization’s financial and reputational future. Finally, nurture relationships of trust with key stakeholders.

All four dimensions are important and Suchy’s treatment is practical. Of particular interest is her take on the director-trustee interface, i.e., what others have called “the” strategic relationship. Suchy details the predictable role confusions in three areas: governance, policy development, and succession planning. These areas are explored from the director’s point of view though it is balanced with views from other professionals responsible for trustee appointments or for activities in service of strengthening boards. Her treatment distinguishes the unique challenges in importantly different museum cultures, those of Australia, Canada, England and the United States.

After all, the Director and Board Chairperson are not on opposite sides of the tennis court net, they are a doubles team disagreeing often enough but sharing the disagreement in a whisper before the next serve. And trustees are on museum boards because they want to be useful. They have been sought for the role in order to make better use of their skills, experience and resources in service of an organization they believe makes a difference in the world.

Available online »


Improving Leadership in Nonprofit Organizations

Ronald E. Riggio and Sarah Smith Orr, editors. (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2004), “Transforming Nonprofit Boards,” pp. 119-130.

Riggio and Orr capture the substance of the Kravis-de Roulet Leadership Conference focused on the nonprofit. Several themes are addressed including change in and transformation of nonprofits, the special nature of nonprofit leadership and the ways in which ideas and actions are interconnected. The scope of the conference was broad, including many challenges faced by nonprofit leaders, e.g., board management, staff motivation, leadership development and program evaluation. The book is intended to be a guidebook for leading nonprofit organizations rather than a handbook of nonprofit leadership or management. This book’s essays are designed to stimulate a nonprofit leader’s thinking and to point out new directions and new ideas for leading that are all well-grounded in theory, research and practice. The essays prompt questions rather than prescribing answers.

Jay Congar’s essay on governance as leadership, “Transforming Nonprofit Boards—Lessons from the World of Corporate Governance,” will be of particular interest to the executive directors of cultural organizations. Congar builds on Peter Drucker’s advice in Managing the Nonprofit Organization: “Over the door to the nonprofit’s boardroom there should be an inscription in big letters that says: Membership on this board is not power, it is responsibility. Board membership means responsibility not just to the organization but to the board itself, to the staff, and to the institution’s mission.” There are four corporate governance areas that Congar believes offer lessons to nonprofit boards: board size, boardroom evaluations, assessments of directors’ capabilities and efficient formats for board meetings. His advice about leveraging the resources around the board table includes descriptions of key knowledge areas that should be present in any well rounded board. He also emphasizes the need not to waste busy people’s time with poorly designed meetings.

Available online »