Monday, September 3, 2012

The Courage Factor

IN PREPARATION FOR A NEW BOOK on history museum leadership that I am co-writing with my colleague Joan Baldwin, we are knee-deep in interviewing leaders across the country.  Our leaders not only head organizations, some of them lead departments (or are departments of one) and others are exerting leadership in other capacities at their museums.  Their ages range from the mid-twenties to the mid-sixties -- newly minted to veteran museum professionals. 

Joan's discovered in some of her interviews that a key element of leadership is courage.  I was fascinated because it hadn't bubbled up in my interviews, at least not in so many words.  

So, I decided to ask about it in my next interview.

My interviewee agreed.  It first takes courage to decide to be the leader of an institution; to trust in one's abilities to lead others; to articulate a vision even when it might be tough to imagine a future.  It also takes courage to make decisions that have the potential for far-reaching impact, sometimes without fully knowing how they'll turn out.

Then I decided to look for evidence of courage in the interviews I'd already completed.  What do you know?  There it was, again and again.  These leaders are experimenting with mostly untested ideas to make their institutions more in tune with their communities, honing their skills by taking on difficult new responsibilities, reveling in giving authority to others.  And that's just the start of a long list of courageous acts.

All are breaking some kind of new ground for their institution and themselves, and ultimately for their profession.  Pretty courageous, don't you think?