Sue Kay added an inspiring dimension to cultural leadership thinking on today’s colloquium on culture management. She has over thirty years’ experience in arts management and cultural administration. Her Phd in leadership brought her to the leadership practices of small cultural organisations. As + 85 % of cultural organisations in the UK count 5 employees or less, small is also big.

During her talk, Kay emphasized the idea that we have to pay more attention to the micro level of leadership. “Managers in small cultural organisations don’t behave as formal leaders. They work together in a dynamic process. Work is central and they share a focus on value. They function as an ensemble with a sufficiency of sharedness. They shift register constantly and take a collaborative approach to decision-making. None of this is in their job descriptions.”

These findings are similar to the definition of shared leadership as a process of influencing each other towards a shared objective (Pearce & Conger, 2003). This process demands focus on the task, mutual respect, ego’s in check, shared mental models and collaborative practices.

“But how to grow?” I asked Kay during the break. “How to realize larger ambitions with a tent?” Her answer was straightforward. “By paying attention to the small. Cultural growth can not come top down, from the palace. It happens in small tents.”

The way to foster more tent-leadership in bigger organisations is to restrain from thinking  ’big’ and foster the miracle leadership work that happens in the teams at the forefront. Directors and managers can bring value by being servant, removing obstacles and following the tent-leaders.

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