(L)eadership and (l)eadership

I mentioned in a last post I’m thinking about gatekeepers and power. Lots of different thoughts are swirling about and I thought putting them down here might help them coalesce.

One of my interviews raised the idea of gatekeepers and the holders of legitimate power in the creative sector.  Those names we all know, the families that dominate giving and board seats.  But also the people that get into positions of power, in government bodies and arts organisations, and hold on to them for dear life, controlling money and access.

These are traditional leaders. The ones that get studied and written about.  I laughed when someone told me at STPA (post on this to come) that there’s a belief we don’t have enough C-level education for creative leaders.  Come on, when you get to C level you can travel the world, generally with your organisation paying for it, and access all sorts of executive leadership (cultural and not) at world famous universities and institutions. These types are not ‘my people.’  My people are outside these structures (mostly), in some sense they are the next in line (emerging) but in another they are saying ‘fuck it’ (sorry) to closed doors and just getting on with what they do.

They are creating a different type of leadership.

One reason why they are rejecting the role of leader is they are not Leaders (capital L).  They haven’t (yet or ever) been granted access to those positions of power. But they are leaders, small l, doing leadership.

On a Monday not so long ago we had a lecture from Cara Kirkwood in my UNSW class on cultural leadership . Cara is the Indigenous Programs coordinator at the NGA in Canberra and spoke about how she operates in two organisational worlds. The first is the traditional leadership and power structure of the NGA (and organisations.) Hierarchical and linear.  The second is the cultural leadership of her community, that runs parallel but has completely different structure. It’s collective and communal, that involves communication and consensus decision making. It’s networked and goes across departments and organisations.

Her real strength is that she navigates both worlds. She’s clearly highly intelligent and charismatic as all get out, so she does it with skill and panache. (If I didn’t already have way too much data I would have killed to include her in my study. She is textbook.)

It’s this second type of structure that is more akin to the leadership that I’m seeing in my data.  This traditional, indigenous cultural leadership is similar to what occurs in the networked world of the people emerging leaders in the arts. And it’s creeping into the mainstream.

This is the area I really want to explore in my thesis, this new relationship to leadership.  When I say my subjects reject leadership I really mean they reject the traditional notion of power and gatekeepers, but it doesn’t stop them from using leadership to achieve often significant things.