A couple of weeks ago, Barry Hessenius of Barry’s Blog posted a question and concern that caught my attention. He wondered “whether or not we are isolating [emerging leaders] by relegating them to their own niche as ‘emerging’, and whether or not by confining them to their own ‘silo’, we might be doing them, and ourselves [meaning the field]—at least in part—a disservice.”
I was pleased to see Barry post this concern, because at least a couple of times a year, arts administrators approach me with the same issues. In my role as leadership development program manager at Americans for the Arts, our Emerging Leaders program and national network is a large part of my work portfolio.
I want to thank Barry for sharing his thoughts on emerging leaders and bringing this issue, which has been bubbling under the surface for quite some time now, to wider attention. Barry also deserves quite a bit of credit for all the great work he has done on behalf of emerging leaders in California. The networks in California—thanks in large part to the James Irvine Foundation’s and the Hewlett Foundation’s leadership—are some of the most robust networks we have nationally and are consistently looked to as model programs.
I appreciate Barry’s concerns regarding sub-sectors of our field, and wanting to create an environment where those new to the field can be seen as fellow leaders by their peers. Transition and succession planning is a large issue that our field needs to address head on in a unified way. As an emerging leader myself, I personally want to avoid the existence of “artificial walls” between emerging and experienced leaders.
In my mind, one of the discerning qualities of the Emerging Leaders Network is that it is an opportunity for those new to the field to practice and workshop their leadership skills, learn fundamentals, and network with peers. Oftentimes, a new arts administrator can feel isolated in their work, and one of the largest benefits of the network to me is that it allows an individual to connect to something larger than themselves and remember that they are a part of a movement.
I don’t believe we are siloing out a subset of the field; rather, I believe we have created a leadership pipeline—where those just entering the field can find a professional home, and network and interact within that home until they are ready to move to mid-career, and eventually, experienced leaders.
Secondly, it is my belief that no matter what age, career stage, or leadership position, we are always emerging. We all have something to teach one another—whether we’ve been in the field for four days or four decades.
The Emerging Leaders Network provides an opportunity and launching pad for networking to be done, mentoring to happen, and partnerships to be formed. I view the most successful Emerging Leaders Networks as those that do not allow themselves to be silos; instead, they are working together as a unified front of emerging arts leaders to create real change and impact within their communities—working with and alongside their supervisors, colleagues, and friends—to help the arts navigate towards having a seat at the table when decisions are made at the community level.
Thirdly, if we are going to be successful in migrating from arts leaders to community leaders, I believe that we need to model and structure our field off of those organizations and sectors that we’re trying to partner with.
If I’m looking for someone to help me learn more about leadership and generational issues in the wider nonprofit sector, I’m going to look to Independent Sector’s NGen program, or the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network (which is modeled in a very similar way to the Emerging Arts Leaders Networks). If I’m trying to get legislation pushed through my local city agency, there are a variety of resources I could tap, but one of them might be an organization like Young Government Leaders, which is a national network building a community of leadership for young public servants across the country. Want to partner with or gain advice from a business leader in your community? You may look to a local emerging leaders network run by your local chamber of commerce, or even check out an international network like Young Presidents Organization.
Emerging leaders networks, young professionals groups, and future leader forums exist in almost every sector. The arts should be included in that.
I do agree with Barry that silos are never productive—whether these are silos between departments in an organization, or silos between different disciplines, experience levels, or generations in an entire field; however, the Emerging Leaders Network was not created with the intention to be separate from the whole, and it should not act, see itself, or be seen in that way.
By having networks available to those just entering the field, we are providing badly needed (and requested) professional development and networking opportunities, and help individuals see themselves as part of something that really makes a difference in the larger field and in their communities.