I was extremely privileged to take part in a day-long exploration of The entrepreneurial leader as part of the Oxford Cultural Leaders Programme. This residential leadership programme is run by Oxford Museums Partnership with the Saïd Business School, and attracts delegates working within the cultural sector from around the world.
I joined a panel of academics and practitioners led by Pegram Harrison, Fellow in Entrepreneurship, Saïd Business School, along with the museum leaders Janet Barnes, now a Consultant and Richard Evans, CEO of the Beamish Museum. Below are some thoughts on entrepreneurial leadership within the cultural sector that I shared as part of this session.
The fundamental home truth for me: entrepreneurial leadership within large, complex cultural organisations has to be long-term and incremental. It involves careful balancing the tripartite income structure (earned income, public subsidy, charitable income). This is difficult, and gives leaders a whole range of issues that they must consider that are not faced by leaders of purely profit-driven organisations. Within these organisations it can take years to embed the ‘culture change’ necessary for even small changes. So, leaders should set realistic and achievable goals, and celebrate success with all staff whenever change has successfully been achieved.
Some key tips for entrepreneurial leadership:
- Position yourself and your organisation as outward-facing. It’s not about you (e.g. what is our goal, what do we want to achieve, what do we need?). It’s about the public, (e.g. what role can we play in our community/ society, what do our beneficiaries/customers need, how can we ‘add benefit’?).
- Prioritise external relationship-building as a long-term strategy and be prepared to be guided by your stakeholders, partners, influencers. Listen to your stakeholders and partners (don’t just pay lip-service): how can you help them? what can you learn from them? Be prepared to change and adapt through this process.
- Be led by strategy, not process. Processes are very important in large organisations, but they can take on a life of their own. Times have changed, strategy changes, processes need to change too. Process should never dominate, particularly in fundraising (e.g. it’s May, we must start planning our fundraising gala!). Take time to question processes - not all at once, but incrementally, as part of your wider strategy implementation.
- Set long term income and fundraising goals. You may always be scrabbling for funds to make up next year’s deficit. But you must also devote time to developing relationships now that will help you fundraise five to ten years in the future. You can only be entrepreneurial with external stakeholders and partners who will share risk with you., and those relationships take a long time to build.
Thanks to all the organisers, delegates and speakers at Oxford Cultural Leaders for a thought-provoking and stimulating discussion. We can, and should, constantly learn from our peers across the cultural sector; we are a formidable group of long-term problem solvers!