• Jennifer Dean

Case Study Report Excerpts

Updated: Oct 12, 2018

The importance of leadership in the cultural sector

Excerpts from an Arts Management Leadership Case Study Report written during my Master's study at Deakin University.

the cultural sector needs strong leaders to engender understanding, credibility and value of cultural offerings, to essentially act as advocates for the continued prevalence of culture in the everyday lives of all people

Defining Leadership (from a range of authors)

The notion of ‘leadership’ is “often constructed as a beautiful and rarefied idea…described in a tone which suggests a heroic beauty…something that is a golden chalice, (and) a most sought-after object.” (Western, 2008, p.22) Historically, persons titled leader are often unanimously attributed complicated and grand notions of influence, courage, ability and honour. As a value, leadership is commonly understood to be an attribute deemed noble, strong and worthy of aspiration. However Napoleon Bonaparte, one of history’s most renowned and controversial leaders described the notion of leadership simply as “a leader is a dealer in hope.” (Sherman, 2015)

Beyond the idealistic, as emphasised by Stodgill in his 1948 review of leadership research, finding a single and accurate definition of the notion of leadership is nigh impossible for “(t)here are almost as many different definitions…as there are persons who have attempted to define the concept.” (Western, 2008, p.23) With each passing year “there continues to be an overwhelming number of papers, articles and books published on leadership…(estimating an overwhelming) 35,000 definitions (currently existing) in academic literature.” (Pye, 2005, p.32) The fascination to fully understand what constitutes leadership, and our relentless desire to obtain it continues insatiably.

Western (2008) reminds us that the word ‘lead’ actually has a double meaning due to the fact that it “is both a noun and a verb”. (Western, 2008, p.23) Not unlike the words peace, love and democracy continued Northhouse (2010), who maintained that despite our having an intuitive knowledge of what we mean when using such words including ‘lead’, they each can still “have different meanings for different people.” (Northouse, 2010, p.2) The meaning of leadership it seems becomes more apparent depending on one’s social group or situation, and as to whether the term is being used to describe a type of social interaction, to describe behaviours and personality traits, or whether “to denote the roles of individuals and collectives.” (Western, 2008, p.23) Regardless of culture or social setting, leadership has been observed in some manner amongst people living in all societies whether civilised or not. It is essentially seen as a process “imbued with a notion of movement, of progress, of transition from one place to another, (both) literally and metaphorically.” (Pye, 2005, p.35) The only real consensus it seems is that what ultimately defines ‘leadership’ rests with a single component, with the notion of having ‘followers’.

“A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others. He does not set out to be a leader, but becomes one by the equality of his actions and the integrity of his intent.” – General Douglas MacArthur (Sherman, 2015)

According to Henman (2011) research into motivational theory suggests that leaders initiate, influence and manage “because groups demand direction…(they) rely on leaders to satisfy (their) needs… (and) while not all groups have a (designated) leader, most groups (will still seek to) have some form of leadership.” (Henman, 2011, p.3) Henman pursues this notion further, quoting Robert Cathcart and Larry Samovar from their 1970 book Small Group Communication asserting, “individuals form groups to satisfy needs that cannot otherwise be satisfied, and they accept direction for the same reason.” (Henman, 2011, p.3) With this in mind, one might view the notion of leadership as related to an intrinsic function of survival and perhaps a requirement of the human psyche. As discussed in great length in The Bass Handbook of Leadership, mankind has “learned to follow…(since infancy) for (the) satisfaction of our needs”. (Bass & Bass, 2008) Parents for example administer leadership over their young for the longest period to provide nurture and to teach survival. Through “socialization…as we (grow), peers and other significant people gradually (take) the place of parental leadership.” (Bass & Bass, 2008) One might assume therefore for this reason that it is intrinsically human nature to lead and to be led; the “leader-follower phenomenon” as Henman (2011) describes is surely “one of the most intriguing expressions of human behaviour”. (Henman, 2011, p.1) Perhaps this provides a logical basis to object to the widely debated statement that ‘leaders are born, not made’?

“A person does not become a leader by virtue of the possession of some combination of traits” discovered Ralf Stodgill after widely searching for specific leadership traits with which to base a list of common qualities, “but the pattern of personal characteristics of the leader must bear some relevant relationship to the characteristics, activities, and goals of the followers.” (Henman, 2011, p.2) This brings to prominence in my opinion, the definition of leadership put forward by President Dwight Eisenhower, that “leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” (Sherman, 2015) Leadership with this in mind appears to be defined more by those that choose to follow, than by those that in turn seek to take lead.

The importance of leadership in the cultural sector

“Culture is the lifeblood of society,” stated Marc van Warmerdam, Managing Director of Dutch innovative musical theatre company Orkater while guest speaker for LinC, a cultural sector leaders learning programme in Amsterdam. (Kennisland, 2015) French art theorist, novelist and one time Minister of Cultural Affairs Andre Malraux described culture as “the sum of all the forms of art, of love, and of thought, which, in the course of centuries, have enabled man to be less enslaved”. (Thinkexist, 2015) Kennisland, a Dutch organization dedicated to social knowledge development and innovative people empowerment propose that “(t)he cultural sector can function as the R&D (research and development) lab of society by drawing attention to, challenging, putting into perspective and sometimes even altering the course of social and technological developments.” (Kennisland, 2015) Perhaps that is why Russian-American philosopher and writer Ayn Rand’s assertion that “a culture is made – or destroyed – by its articulate voices” rings true. (Thinkexist, 2015)

Today’s apparent lack of ‘articulate voices’; “those who have significant industry experience and who are recognised as emerging leaders in their field” but who are also willing to be ascribed the often misunderstood label of ‘leader’, has been recently catapulted into the media spotlight. (Goodwin, 2015) Spurred perhaps by the assumed diminishing societal support for the cultural sector as exemplified through continued cuts to public funding, it seems that now more than ever before, cultural leaders are needed to “actively promote their industry’s practice and social value.” (Brisbane, 2015) While leadership internally is arguably growing in strength, including the rise in philanthropists and board chairs “who bestow their considerable business acumen to the arts”, and also for example head curators, symphony conductors and artistic directors “who we often laud upon retirement or passing”; as Goodwin (2015) suggests externally, these leaders are “not highly visible – and that may be because they are more focused on ‘doing’ leadership than being seen as a leader.” (Goodwin, 2015) However ‘being seen’ as leaders is arguably essential now for the cultural sector. So often misunderstood and consequently undervalued, the cultural sector needs strong leaders to engender understanding, credibility and value of cultural offerings, to essentially act as advocates for the continued prevalence of culture in the everyday lives of all people. Not simply because culture is “a huge economic driver”, claims Internationally acclaimed actress Cate Blanchett, but because “culture generally for any nation is a piece of soft diplomacy” that helps to foster mutual understanding among people and their nations. (ABC, 2015)

While it goes without saying that leadership is essential for inspiring great vision and effort amongst arts workers, it is even more essential today for inspiring the continued and active support of the very societies of which culture is core. In the words of Rosalynn Carter, former First Lady of the United States, “a leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be.” (Kruse, 2012) A community where culture isn’t central “would be a really stagnate community” suggests one of Australia’s most prominent arts philanthropist’s, Simon Mordant; “culture needs to be at the core.” (Mordant, 2015) Cultural leadership therefore is not only necessary, but also vital to the continuing development of culture that defines a people well into the future.

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