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A photo of community participants working on mosaic butterflies for the Fitton Center's Wings of Hope mosaic

Leadership Is Giving—Not Taking—Control

Five or six years ago, one of our e-newsletters focused on preservation and conservation. The last 18 months have proven that the arts sector embraces these practicespreserving the arts during a pandemic and conserving resources across budgets and fiscal years. Time and time again, this is evidenced in the arts sector’s resilience and recovery. Last week, I turned to David Marquet’s book, "Turn Around the Ship," which shares a compelling story about leadership and its origins. If you’ve read the book, you know that Marquet reveals his story about turning followers into leaders.

For context, Marquet was a nuclear submarine commander. While that job may seem to share little with the world of artistic disciplines we know, his findings are relevant. Marquet explored two styles of leadership: leader-follower and leader-leader.

The leader-follower model is the conventional supervisor-employee relationship that many organizations follow. But I believe it’s the leader-leader model that should be our new, authentic normal. Marquet saw the value of people becoming leaders, no matter their position in the workplace. He said:

"Imagine a workplace where everyone engages and contributes their full intellectual capacity. A place where people are healthier and happier because they have more control over their worka place where everyone is a leader."

Here I am, six years past my first read of "Turn Around the Ship," and I still marvel at the success of the leader-leader phenomenon. Especially today, organizations with the most success have rallied together without regard for title or hierarchy within the organizational chart.

I know some of you are saying, ‘What?!”but hang in here with me for a moment: Think back to the day your doors closed due to the pandemic and you had to decide between wringing your hands or shifting to digital content distribution (or any other number of big decisions to be made). Chances are, it wasn’t the finance or executive directors who knew definitively what to do next. It was the organization’s intern or administrative leaders are who became virtual heroes, producing high-quality online content. So many of you have experienced success because you were able to set aside individual titles and chains-of-command hierarchy in order to keep your passion alive and your sense of responsibility for the mission thriving.

We continue to witness the development of leaders from every position within arts organizations. We’ve seen artists lead community conversations and pave the way for hard conversations on a variety of fronts. We’ve found leadership rise from the staff and boards of arts organizations statewide and nationally. Executive directors, chairs, and presidents alike are thrilled with the success and support in our sector.

At the Ohio Arts Council, we too live Marquet's “imagine” statement. We’ve spent 18 months working remotely from our homes, and we’re now back to the office utilizing a hybrid teleworking/in-office structure. In 2020 and most of 2021, despite having less time and ability to travel the state to visit our constituents and grantees and introduce ourselves to new folks and potential new applicants, we still increased our outreach. As a result, nearly 20 percent of our FY 2022 applicants are new to the agency. We are winding up our work with our strategic plan—the 2021 Essentials Plan—and making great progress toward objectives centered on customer service, resilience, and recovery. We continue our quarterly data collection through grantee surveys so that we are able to tell the real story of the great work artists and arts organizations are accomplishing, and the sector’s real needs as we look ahead.

Nearly every single day we receive another invitation to a concert, performance, festival, or exhibition. You are safely opening your doors while keeping your eyes on the science, knowing you are able turn on a dime to keep your audiences safe, if that becomes necessary. Some of you are making big decisions about vaccination and mask requirements, knowing that not everyone will be happy. Some folks report that they feel like the pandemic police but remain determined to do the right thing to keep people safe and healthy. Thank you for your leadership.

By changing our perspective over these many months, we have realized we are better because we are practicing the leader-leader method of success. As arts leaders, regardless of title or role, we are conserving our most valuable assets, beginning with the leadership that lives within every artist, arts administrator, actor, musician, teacher, and more, in order to prevent the loss of new ideas and promote exceptional planning, design, and vision.

Let’s keep turning the ship and getting it right. If you are in a traditional leadership role, consider giving control to those you have the privilege of working alongside and support the idea of creating leaders rather than followers.

Challenge yourself give yourself permission to be a bold leader! Soon enough, you’ll find yourself updating your resume and adding “leader” to your bio. After all, you’ve earned it, you’re living it, and we’re celebrating your success!

Until next time, 

Donna S. Collins

Donna S. Collins
Leader among leaders at the OAC

Featured photo: Photo from the Fitton Center's Wings of Hope international mosaic mural. This collaborative project collected 1,000 hand-made glass mosaic butterflies created by 350 participants in 19 states and eight countries. The public art project, which showcases themes of uplifting change and transformation, was led by Hamilton-based artist Lori Kay Farr. Photos courtesy of the Fitton Center for Creative Arts.



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