Must Reads

National Arts Strategies

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


Value systems-Themed Readings

The Five Most Important Questions You Will Ever Ask About Your Organization

Peter F. Drucker, (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2008), “Who Is Our Customer,” pp. 25-46.

Airport bookstores are filled with the latest answers from management gurus. None have enjoyed anything approaching the long shelf life of Peter Drucker—perhaps because his specialty was questions, the questions. Drucker’s questions help organizations address their core strengths and weaknesses and design their strategy. A stellar cast of current scholars: Jim Collins, Philip Kotler, Jim Kouzes, Judith Rodin, Kas Rangan and Frances Hesselbein celebrate Drucker’s achievement with to-the-point essays that apply Drucker’s five basic questions to contemporary organizational life: What is our mission? Who is our customer? What does the customer value? What are our results? What is our plan?

Drucker would be no stranger to the tensions in almost every cultural organization: continuity and change, financial sustainability and honoring the muses, and the collisions of value sets among the various professions staffing the organization. Drucker’s questions often both surface these tensions and offer the superordinate values in which differences might be resolved.

The book also includes Peter Drucker’s organizational self-assessment process—not so much a questionnaire as it is a potentially transformative organization-wide process. The process has a strong focus on goals, emphasizing commitment to direction and flexibility in execution. It places ownership and accountability with individuals and leads participants to results monitoring that—in turn—closes the loop with an improved strategy.

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Managing the Arts: Leadership and Decision Making under Dual Rationalities

David Cray, Loretta Inglis and Susan Freeman, The Journal of Arts Management, Law and Society, Vol. 36, Number 4 (Winter 2007): pp. 295-313.

The dual functions of guiding artistic or educational activities and an organization’s administration—even in the best-run museums and performing arts companies fosters structural complexity, competing sets of goals, multiple stakeholder claims and values in some tension with one another. The distinct nature of cultural organizations arises not simply from their missions, but also from the complexity that multiple demands impose. As the authors put it, “…the strategic decision-making process encounters forces, especially those of an aesthetic nature, that conflict with the more rationalist orientation inherent in the managerialist approaches that (these) organizations are being urged to accept. Our aim, in both instances, is to draw heavily on the existing managerial literature to provide greater understanding of the range of roles that cultural organization managers must fill while acknowledging the distinct nature of the environments they face.”

The authors demonstrate how the major leadership styles (charismatic, transactional, transformational and participatory) play into these tensions. Each style has its unique advantages and disadvantages but many researchers now hold that successful leaders have their “default” style. In other words, they work to match personal styles with the culture of the organization and the demands of its environment. The size of the organization, diversity of programs, internal political arrangements, relationships with external stakeholders, financial stability, institutional image, age and stage of growth or decline will impact the fit between a leader’s style and organizational effectiveness.

The article concludes with a very practical section on strategic decision-making in cultural organizations, covering rational models, decision making as a political exercise, incremental decision making (small bets and experiments) and “the garbage can: strategy as a pattern in random events.” Again, the appropriate model to use ought to be reached situationally. One size never really fits all.

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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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