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Story 11: Learning to Lead

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Part II: 1970-1971: The Director's Project: Learning to Lead

Written by Mike Spock

During the 1960s wonderful things were accomplished, but as the museum was transformed problems began to appear. The expanding staff grew with soft money. Grants came to an end and were not reliably renewed or replaced. Rather than laying people off, ill-defined, un-funded jobs were created without clear goals, standards, or structure. Cut loose from the discipline of effective goals, standards, and structure, not-fully-engaged creative staff were apt to wander about kibitzing and criticizing. The combination was corrosive. Ostensibly happy staff were not. Everyone was crying for clarity and direction.

We had always met around a long table at all-staff meetings. Everyone was invited to participate in important decisions. My Fieldston and Antioch training allowed me to take this approach as a matter of course: full participation led to informed decisions; collective decisions were democratic decisions. I also believed that creativity would thrive best in a non-hierarchical work environment. And the work we were doing was nothing if not creative.

As we moved ahead on our ambitious agendas, things began to come apart. We reorganized and redefined and reorganized again. Nothing seemed to stick. Beyond the traditional operating departments and budget that I inherited, there was no underlying structural armature to which to anchor a loose collection of project teams that formed and disbanded as needed.

Deficits had become the rule. We were invading the endowment at an alarming rate. Everyone—board, management, and staff—could see that if this continued the end would soon be in sight.

Next: Cries for Help