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Interview with Hilary S. Carty

Posted on Oct 28, 2013 by in issue #02 |


By Giannalia Cogliandro Beyens

ENCATC General Secretary


Hilary S. Carty, Hon. Fellow, Goldsmith’s University


Re-Thinking Leadership in the Cultural & Creative Industries

Why are you passionate about the arts and culture?

My work in the cultural and creative industries continues to be stimulated and motivated by my belief in the value & positive impact of the arts & culture on societies. There is an instrumental value – of course: we do combat social challenges; are effective as bastions of societal change; and we can be at the heart of community development. But let’s not underrate the intrinsic value of culture on our lives – the joyful impact of interacting with creativity and being inspired by the imagination, innovation and the ingenuity of the sectors in which we work.

What brought me in to the arts was exposure through school/education, and it remains vital that we support arts education in schools – otherwise individuals like me, from average backgrounds, would not have the chance of finding our vocation. What keeps me involved is my passion – for dance (my favoured art-form) and for making a difference through the arts and creativity. My role is not that of the artist or craft-maker. Rather, I walk alongside the creatives, supporting, encouraging, enabling… as coach, manager, commissioner, consultant, lecturer, adviser… seeking to add my skills and experience to positively impact the sector and society.

What is the Cultural Leadership Programme (CLP) and what became apparent while you were its Director?

From 2006 – 2011, as Director of the Cultural Leadership Programme (CLP), I was fortunate to work with a significant number of UK leaders in the cultural and creative industries. Unusually for the UK, this programme worked right across the cultural sectors from the arts and built heritage, through to the commercial creative industries, advertising and design. With sector-wide investment from Government and a new collaboration of sector lead bodies, the Cultural Leadership Programme was created to build on existing leadership practice, innovate new models and approaches and promote sustainable leadership development within a dynamic and fast-changing landscape.

CLP would chart a vibrant period of research, experimentation and innovation in leadership practice. An independent evaluation of the programme reported a £1 to £4.20 cost-benefit ratio for organisations investing in the programme’s activities, evidencing that good leadership practice improves financial as well as management performance.

What became apparent through the commissioning and delivery of those leadership programmes was the need to build in a diverse range of access points for today’s leaders, ensuring both variety and flexibility to match the very eclectic nature of organisations across the sector.

What is the context in which cultural leaders are operating today?

Today’s arts, cultural and creative sectors are very broad, covering a range of different business models, organisational types and contexts from large institutions with a history dating back to previous centuries; to medium scale organisations that boomed in the cultural enlargement after the 2nd World War; then to the myriad of micro businesses that give the creative industries a distinctive character.

The sector also includes a significant proportion of individual practitioners (artists, makers, producers, curators etc.) whose leadership practice may be through influence and advocacy rather than organisational hierarchies. Across this range of entities, leadership styles and structures differ significantly; and consequently, so do the routes to developing leadership skills.

Leadership training has also to meet the varied demands of the emerging leader – managing perhaps for the first time; the mid-career / middle management leader seeking the defining competences to make that leap to the top; and the established leader who must find the wherewithal to sustain proven success; to refresh, renew and maintain business competitiveness in an increasingly crowded market. And that market includes diminishing public resources and increased pressure on state funding for both the traditional and contemporary arts, culture and heritage.

Set against this backdrop, the requirement for a complex, varied and dynamic approach to leadership development is critical. Yet we know that arts and cultural organisations are not investing sufficiently in training development for their staff. A study for the Cultural Leadership Programme found that whilst most public and private sector organisations invested between 1 and 3 per cent of their turnover in professional development, the equivalent figure for the creative and cultural sector was 0.3 per cent.

How can a leader react to the challenges presented in today’s complex and fast track world? Can you give some examples?

In some ways Leadership in the 21st Century is just the same as leadership before our time. The leader has to drive forward the vision; maintain the engagement and commitment of key stakeholders; manage people and programmes; and manage the bottom line – keeping things financially viable.

But we must always be watchful of pedaling too softly – and leadership now has a set of new and additional complexities. So the permanent demands of leading creative risk, business innovation, workforce development, resource optimisation and stakeholder management; are compounded by the pace and dynamics of change. The speed of change; the impact of new technology; social media; the 24hour society; and the sheer variety of roles within the sector, enhance the leadership context and add to the leadership challenge. For example:

  • There is a smart simplicity in the traditional organisational hierarchy of – everyone knows where they stand. But with the trend for flatter structures, flexible teams, matrix working and virtual teams, leaders need are required to demonstrate a greater range of people management skills, to manage good performance; and the aptitude to nurture high-fliers as well as challenge the low achievers.
  • We now expect to know our leaders – we want to see them on twitter, Facebook, Weibo – we want to know what they think, what they prioritise and what they value. So values-based leadership is essential and today’s leaders need to be constantly on guard and ‘on message’. We want their leadership to be transparent.
  • So in addition to ‘setting the vision’ and ‘managing the resources’ the leader in the cultural and creative industries, as elsewhere, needs a full bucket of resilience as a core components of his/her toolkit. That resilience means the ability to keep going when the going gets tough; being strategic and opportunistic in the right measure. And also, social resilience – having good networks and connectivity across your sector, with other partners, nationally, internationally… the list goes on.
  • We see our industry leaders traversing the globe from Tasmania to British Columbia from Mexico to Japan. So an international perspective must be part of his or her framework. And that internationalism pervades not simply the job market, but organisations and institutions too. Today’s audience is no longer fixed by geographical or physical boundaries.
  • Another dynamic of our sectors today is a reduction in longevity. There is now consistent pressure to ‘move on’, ‘move up’, ‘move out’ – to prove yourself in one organisation, then go swiftly to meet a bigger challenge, develop a better profile and build a stronger career. The outcome is that there is far less opportunity to learn and refine your skills on-the-job. Rather than gathering experience over time, we expect leaders to ‘hit the ground running’ and make your lasting mark within the 1st 100 days.

This set of circumstances does serve to enhance the priority for formal training in leadership – providing an opportunity to gather, in a structured mileau, the skills and knowledge that are now core requirements for leadership development and progression. The University, Business School or structured learning environment can have a critical part to play.

With such diversity, complexity and challenge, how best can we effectively prepare and support leaders to be dynamic, resilient and creative?

In my experience, it remains critical to teach the basics – the leadership theories, models and approaches, so that leaders (whether emerging or established) can gain or secure an authority on the subject and build confidence from placing their own experience in an historical context and within theoretical frameworks. In my own teaching at the Fachochshule Kufstein in Austria, I see the positive impact when students set their leadership style against standard models or when they interrogate the nature of ‘Followership’ and reflect more deeply on the quality of engagement being evidenced amongst their colleagues back in the workplace.

So let us not dismiss the basics, even as we explore a wider curriculum. To increase the relevance of our subjects, we need to focus our energies not simply on the ‘what’ of leadership but more specifically on the ‘how’.
Firstly let’s consider the options for blended learning, to respond to the variety of learning styles and preferences we consistently encounter, and ensure that we are making good use of the range of formats available:

  • The cultural and creative sectors have grown through a process of work-based learning, transferring skills and approaches from person to person in industry settings. It remains important to draw on that bountiful resource, to validate and formalise work-based learning outcomes by adopting learning plans and agreeing structured approaches. In that way we can benefit from facilitating peer-to-peer learning, formalising the opportunities to learn within industry networks; through job-shadowing or placements; and encourage reflection and understanding by viewing the work context as a live lecture theatre or classroom – a partner organisation for the University sector.
  • On the other hand, leaders, particularly those with the heaviest workloads, also place a high value on residential workshops – a chance to step right away from the working environment and spend quality engagement time with colleagues, working through scenarios, sharing perspectives and approaches, and learning from the experience of others.
  • The response to online leadership learning is more mixed. Whereas the ‘Digital Natives’ are happily clicking through resources and participating in online chat rooms, the digitally challenged amongst us hesitate to embrace the wealth of tools that can and are being delivered through online platforms. Online is growing very rapidly and can bring access, efficiency as well as creativity to the learning arena.

So creating a variety of learning formats is important, particularly for the leader working in industry, who seeks or needs to combine their Masters level course with paid employment.

What are the ever-increasing range of leadership competences now demanded of today’s leaders?

Rising up the list are discrete talents, now more pertinent and germane:

  • Specific skills and experience are needed to support and actively promote diversity; – for how long are we going to read that women make up the majority of the cultural and creative industries except at governance, board and trustee levels – the higher leadership levels where power and influence are highest? We need leaders who will push to make a difference with or without legislation.
  • Governance arrangements and priorities vary from sector to sector, from commercial to not-for-profit organisations, charities, local authority theatres and museums, amateur associations and sole traders. This makes governance training an essential topic for leadership learning.
  • Leaders need to be able to manage constant disruption – managing organisations and people through change.
  • There is an increased demand for fund-raising skills and philanthropy expertise;
  • Leaders need to be effective at making partnerships and collaborating – for both creative and organisational outcomes.
  • They need to be politically astute and sensitive to local, regional, national and European agendae.
  • They have to develop strong negotiation skills to navigate the array of new stakeholder relationships – with funders, with supporters, with audiences, with communities.
  • And they need critically to demonstrate excellent advocacy and communication skills – to lobby and gain support from both public and private benefactors.

We need leaders who will keep learning. For whom continuous professional development (CPD) is not an acronym but a way of life – for them and their teams.

So we are asking our leaders to lead from the front our sectors, through the middle of their organisations and behind a weight of policy and industry challenge and change.
It is a big ‘ask’!

What do we need to acknowledge as we rethink leadership?

If we are Re-Thinking Leadership – then we need to acknowledge the complexity of leadership in the sector today. We need leaders to be sharp enough to understand the leadership spectrum and wise enough to discern the key challenges. We need them to be quick and yet flexible, safe and yet innovative. To achieve all of this, we need confident leaders who can work through the territory and gain an informed understanding of the world of leadership, and their place within it.

What is “soft-power” leadership?

Daniel Goleman (Emotional Intelligence) writes ‘to achieve improved business performance, leaders need to be emotionally engaged in their self-development. And that requires connecting the effort to what really matters to them.’ So today’s curriculum needs also to raise the profile of the so-called ‘soft’ leadership skills – Emotional Intelligence, Interpersonal Dialogue, Intercultural Exchange.

We need leaders to know their strengths; to promote dispersed leadership, matrix working and team-based approaches which step back from the front-leading charismatic leader and encourages the more egalitarian, relational leader, who sits among the team and encourages shared goals; facilitates shared approaches; and celebrates shared outcomes.

This leadership requires authority, generosity and security. The security that comes from a deep understanding of one’s self – the good, the bad and the ugly of one’s own leadership competences. Today’s leaders need to know their motivations, their passion, their integrity – their authenticity. The global window through which the world now views its leaders – their vision, their values, their legitimacy – demands nothing less.

Can any of this be taught? What’s the role of the Educator?

Some leadership competences, as Educators, we can certainly teach. But authenticity – that, the individual needs to find for themselves. It lies at the heart of their professional development. The Educator’s role is rather to prepare the ground and support their growth. It is the core business of teaching. We are blending that core business with personalised leadership learning and amplifying its resonance for the world of work. We are indeed re-thinking and re-modeling leadership for the dynamic environments of the 21st Century.