Dec 17 2021
A new Office for Leadership Transition is advocating for more diversified models of cultural leadership. Sandeep Mahal shares the aims of the programme.
In her book, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, Reni Eddo Lodge states: “I want to deconstruct the structural power of a system that marked me out as different.” Our sector is embarking on seismic change and tackling head-on issues of diversity, equality and inclusion is crucial to transformation.
We have seen decisive statements and some quick fix initiatives, but to really transform cultural leadership and the future of the cultural sector, we need to combat under-representation at senior levels, proactively make way for new perspectives, and implement a re-distribution of cultural leadership.
A giant daunting leap into leading
In 2014, I embarked on my own leadership journey, appointed to my first senior cultural leadership role at The Space through a secondment opportunity created by the Clore Fellowship programme. I took a giant, daunting leap into leading and was supported to learn and adapt, to experiment and fail, and to grow and move on.
Since the 2020 Culture Reset programme – part of a sector-wide commitment to inclusive, progressive change – I’ve been reflecting on the structural inequalities that exist in the sector and the initiatives borne of Covid such as Freelancers Make Theatre Work and We Shall Not Be Removed.
They demonstrate that change leadership is most effective when distributed and generous and undertaken without concern for ownership. Advocating for a more diversified model of leadership feels like an important shift if the sector wants to take a truly inclusive approach to diversification at senior levels.
From good intentions to concrete change
The starting point for leadership transition is an acknowledgement from those who are responsible for the structural hierarchies and hold the power that now is the right time to make this change. They might be checking in with their own privilege to acknowledge ‘we must do something to better reflect the audiences and communities that we exist to serve’.
But how do we encourage cultural leaders to shift from declaring good intentions and socially progressive concepts to concrete plans? To developments that are grounded in reality, linked to specific actions in the diary, supported with resources, and overseen by trustees to ensure momentum, accountability and impact?
The Office for Leadership Transition is a new initiative that responds to that need for that transformation. It has been created for three reasons: to address systemic issues of inequality and intolerable barriers to progression; to support a dynamic transformation of representation at senior levels; and to build a new blended learning network for sustainable diverse leadership.
It requires different models, interventions, and a change in conditions to create the opportunities and spaces so that new energy, innovation and talent can get in and get on.
Making it work
I’m co-developing the Office with Richard Watts of people make it work. They’ve been supporting cultural organisations to change and develop for more than 20 years. Working together, we seek to:
- provide a series of meaningful interventions aimed, with care, at individual senior leaders with a wraparound programme of support;
- assist cultural organisations to lead systemic and behavioural change to transition their leadership (both people and practices); and
- offer new perspectives, new people, new forms and new inclusive models of practice.
We will work with and for organisations to provide a range of services to enable transition readiness with care and integrity. These include tailored consultancy, leadership model development, managed restructures, and recruitment support as well as expert advice and toolkits for transition planning, HR and IP and pipeline talent development. We are also developing cohort-based programmes for groups of leaders and organisations that want to learn together.
A dynamic and supported transformation
The transition will not be the sole preserve of directors and chief executives. It won’t be confined to a few lines in the strategic plan. It will, instead, be fuelled by collaboration and an expansion of opportunities to nurture the kinds of creative, civic and brave senior leadership that we are modelling through the Office.
We are sensitive in our approach and will work with leadership teams to create the conditions for systemic conversations – questioning, reflecting, learning – about organisational risk-aversion to power dynamics and advancing equity in leadership.
The conversations alone will not fix the system. But from acknowledging and exploring, we can begin to consider actions. And to feel capable of making those transitions, leaving the old situations, systems and practices behind to welcome new structures, processes, perspectives and talent breakthroughs.
The next wave of leadership
We recognise there are many different reasons why organisations find it difficult to transition leadership. For example, leaders might be considering stepping aside to make way for new leadership perspectives but are in need of a clear roadmap to support such a proactive transition. Or a place-based or artform consortium might be considering the ‘next wave of leaders’ and seeking leadership development support for under-represented voices.
Or a board might decide that the current leadership doesn’t bring the necessary skills, perspectives or practices for the organisation to be relevant, representative and resilient for the future. They might recognise change needs to happen but need support and guidance to implement their intentions.
Whatever the scenario, the Office for Leadership Transition is designed to reflect that and help organisations push forward their diversity agendas by focusing on impact, and by initiating and embedding proactive structural and culture change at senior levels within organisations.
The need for disruptive innovation, systemic change and a transformation is very real and present. Our challenge today is how to move on from wishful thinking and good intentions to really combat under-representation at senior levels. If this is a challenge your organisation is facing, maybe the Office for Leadership Transition can help.
Sandeep Mahal is an Associate Consultant at people make it work, leading on The Office for Leadership Transition.
Dec 17 2021
Boards in the cultural sector often focus on improving the delivery of a conventional model, but as Anisa Morridadi argues, both trustees and organisations need to change.
I have been interested in governance for some time. I suppose it comes from seeing it as a function that has been protected from innovation, and as a mechanism that reveals inherent power relationships.
While I think the focus on delivering a conventional model is very important, trustees need to understand their role more clearly, and organisations need to manage their governance more effectively.
I applaud that work. It’s designed to increase effectiveness and accountability and to reduce risk. These are things that every organisation (and sector) should be concerned about, and we definitely need to invest in training, development and support which provides improvement in these areas.
Exploring governance through a transformational lens
What this focus doesn’t try to address so much are the underlying assumptions that sit within our governance systems. Who should be doing the overseeing? And what does effective oversight look like in 21st century Britain? These questions are less about improving the way current governance is delivered by current trustees, and more about exploring governance through a transformational lens.
If we think first about how governance is done today, we see that it’s often shaped by convention and habitual practice rather than reflecting a ‘needs based’ analysis of what the organisation requires from trustees in order to be well run, mission focused, safe and solvent.
We are interested in shaking up these norms and practices to explore and develop new ways of working within a compliant governance model, that truly reflect the needs of organisations, and generate ways of gaining more value from – and delivering more value to – trustees of the future.
Social missions and civic responsibilities
Secondly, I want to think about the meaning of governance in the context of social missions and civic responsibilities. Many of the organisations we know in the cultural sector have missions and practices that are about enabling communities and individuals to grow, expand horizons, explore transformational opportunities and grow agency, confidence and impact.
The internal practices of these organisations might be empowering, facilitating and co-creating. And the models they operate with are often iterative, risk laden and orientated towards potential and undefined outcomes.
In contrast, many conventional governance models can feel jarring – adopting a ‘top-down’ planning and oversight model with long lead times, fixed plans and unresponsive approaches. I think we need to explore this dynamic and ask what kinds of governance would feel more aligned with the mission and working practices of the organisation?
The need to move on from monocultural boards
Thirdly, I am (like many of us) interested in who is doing this governance work. If the oversight feels misaligned in its form, it is even more misaligned when we think about who tends to be occupying these roles. Because of a traditional ‘skills audit’ habit that privileges the professions, boards rarely reflect the audiences and communities that the charity seeks to serve and work with.
However well-intentioned this group of trustees are, nothing beats representation, and most trustee bodies are simply monocultural. When the dominant voices on our boards also reflect the dominant voices in society then we should be rightly concerned that our charities have blind spots and unconscious biases that are a drag anchor affecting their ability to deliver their mission.
We need to see new and different people populating our boards, with a different relationship to each other and the organisation and with new practices that generate sharp and powerful impact and help our cultural charities to deliver their missions.
Direct support for new trustees
The Transforming Governance programme is a collaboration between Beatfreeks and people make it work which aims to address these issues. Together, we are developing a programme designed to give practical support to individual trustees who want to create change in their boards; and to offer structured support for organisations wanting to explore these questions.
In addition, it will provide direct support for new trustees, introducing them to what it means to be a board member, brokering some board options and supporting them during their first 12 months in post.
Do let us know if you are interested in the support I’m describing, or if you would like to partner with us or help fund this important initiative.
Anisa Morridadi is Founder and CEO at Beatfreeks, and an associate at people make it work, leading its Transforming Governance programme.