Your Responses: What Leadership Looks Like in Practice

We’ve heard from you! Here are some of the examples of what others are doing to practice adaptive leadership in their own work.


This post is part of this month’s in-depth exploration of adaptive leadership.

What does adaptive leadership look like in your practice?

This month, we have been investigating what adaptive leadership looks like in practice by gathering insight and testimonials from a wide variety of voices, including Christopher Williams and Ruby Lerner.

Our goal was to better understand what ‘adaptive leadership’ really means for arts leaders right now, and to gather specific examples of practices, processes, and behaviors that are helping leaders distribute responsibility and mobilize teams to solve organizations’ most complex challenges.

Now, we’ve heard from you! Over the past weeks, members of the ArtsFwd community shared their answers to these three research questions privately in our survey and publicly in comments on the blog. Here are some of the examples we collected of what others are doing to practice adaptive leadership in their own work. We hope that these responses provoke your own leadership practices, and inform your thinking about what behaviors leaders can adopt in order to support and maintain a resilient, adaptive organization.

1. How do you seek out perspectives different from your own and let them influence you?

“We encourage staff to participate in regional and national convenings to get more exposure to how others are dealing with the issues we find most pressing.”

“Constant communication and collaboration with colleagues and other organizations (we have collaborative projects going at all times). Contracting with artists new to us to do projects in a new way. Formal organizational mentoring programs that focus on capacity-building and staff development. Going to arts and culture events in our area: constantly stimulates new thoughts!”

“There are people in my office who know a great deal more than I do, so I always try to soak up everything they have. This approach, however, seems to work best when you’re the youngest in the office, and somewhat new to the field, so it’s easy to take it all in and be influenced. … and have the open mind to know you want to use other people’s help/ideas.”

2. What practices help you establish continuous learning?

“Interesting thought papers are shared with all and often discussed at monthly staff gatherings.”

“Encouraging staff to be engaged with peer organizations and to go to professional development and skills-development workshops.”

“Read daily blogs, industry white papers, attend conferences and outreach/community events, engage in conversation with leadership peers, question my assumptions.”

“Asking questions and clarifying things you want to know (not necessarily need to know) is always helpful. I know a lot of people who only learn what they ‘need.’ … I’m constantly talking to [staff in other departments]. It’s good to know how they work, how they talk, so 1) I can relay that information to clients who ask about them, and 2) so I can have a better of idea of what they do so I’m not turning to them with expectations they can’t meet. I am able to communicate with them on a real level and speak their language.”

3. How have you evolved your staff structure to meet your changing practices?

“Decisions are made collectively in most situations and management cannot obstruct progress of the whole.”

“[We] shifted responsibilities to play to team strengths: our Box Office Manager moved to Patron Relations, we strengthened Marketing Director role, new Director of Sales position to oversee Box Office, Call Center, and Group Sales, hired a new Audience Development Coordinator to assist integration of Sales/Marketing/Development, created a full-time [school partnerships] administrator to leverage educational outreach investment.” 

How can I share my experience?

Our focus on the topic of adaptive leadership will come to a close this month. However, we are eager to continue learning about your own experiences in response to these questions. Click here to share your responses with us privately.

Kendra Danowski is the former ArtsFwd Editor & Engagement Coordinator at EmcArts.