Must Reads

National Arts Strategies

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


Organizational culture-Themed Readings

Real Leadership: Helping People and Organizations Face Their Toughest Challenges

Dean Williams, (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 2005), "The Transition Challenge: Moving from One System of Values to Another," pp. 115-140.

It seems that everyone today is talking about change, and given the wavering economy and rapidly advancing technological developments it is easy to see why this topic preoccupies leaders now. We know that nonprofit organizations must be nimble in adapting to environmental changes in order to be both relevant and viable institutions. Many leaders possess the competencies to succeed in a variety of markets and climates. However, the emotional process of giving up “the old way of doing things” is often the biggest challenge.

In the chapter, “The Transition Challenge: Moving from One System of Values to Another,” Dean Williams outlines the necessary steps in orchestrating a transition. Transition challenges involve changing values, habits and attitudes in an organization. Williams uses examples from world history as well as politics and business to demonstrate the possibilities and pitfalls inherent in leading change. He notes that identifying and preserving the one essential value, practice or tradition in your organizational culture can ease the process of changing other aspects.

This selection is taken from the book Real Leadership: Helping People and Organizations Face Their Toughest Challenges. Williams excels at storytelling, making his leadership literature more vivid and enjoyable to read than many in the genre. His use of historical examples to illustrate points makes this contemporary piece timeless.

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Leadership and the Psychology of Turnarounds

Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Harvard Business Review (June 2003): pp. 3-11.

Smart financial and strategic choices are clearly necessary in revitalizing a declining organization. In this article, Rosabeth Moss Kanter points out that reversing the organizational culture is just as important in harnessing the energy needed for change. Moss calls this a psychological turnaround. Executives at companies such as Gillette and the BBC have successfully orchestrated turnarounds by restoring employees’ confidence in themselves and in one another, thus strengthening external stakeholder confidence.

Kanter offers a long list of cultural phenomena in declining organizations: secrecy and denial, blame and scorn, avoidance and turf protection, all of which eventually lead to passivity and helplessness. Though these issues may be more prevalent in the large corporations she cites in the article, smaller and nonprofit organizations are in no way immune to these kinds of problems. Kanter speaks to the merits of building trust and transparency in troubled organizations—a valuable lesson for healthy organizations as well. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the most effective leaders reversed the cycle not by replacing large numbers of staff, but by restoring confidence through empowerment.

This short article is a must read because it provides managers with a quick look at methods that can be used both restoratively and preventatively to create an open, respectful and productive organizational culture. Find it for a small fee on the Harvard Business Review website.

Available online »