Story 11: Learning to LeadStory | Related Media | Archives | Print | eMail | Search
Written by Mike Spock
So, with only a little encouragement and sometimes no obvious qualifications, a collection of doers and thinkers showed up and got to work. Things took shape and either failed or made it from a combination of inspiration and trial and error. We kept leashes long. People were encouraged to take chances and make things happen. Criticism was allowed. Proposals were written and grants were brought in. Nifty exhibits were created and multimedia educational materials and activities were tested and produced. Teachers and parents were trained and mentored. Collections were rationalized and documented. A little-used auditorium was eventually transformed into an open, multilevel visitor/exhibit facility. The old-fashioned, glass-enclosed natural history and cultural exhibits were retired, and our mansion was converted into a teacher resource center and offices for the burgeoning staff. Over seven years the budget increased more than fourfold, and the staff grew from seventeen to the full-time equivalent of thirty-five.
We got national attention and some significant government and foundation grants—highly unusual in those times. Out-of-state visitors with gleams in their eyes began to show up at our doorstep with dreams of creating similar experiences in their own communities. From the outside, The Children's Museum in Boston looked like a success: the model of a progressive and thriving educational organization. But it was not.
The museum, as an organization, seemed to be in sort of a mess.
It wasn't that we weren't trying and adding innovative improvements. It sometimes seemed that we were investing as much time in getting the organization to work as we were in the museum programs. We figured out what needed our attention and with some creativity, found or created interesting and useful solutions. Some made us proud! So, perhaps the messiness was not about the systems but about other less obvious problems hiding in the organizational underbrush.
With all the exciting exhibits, programs, and projects during those first years, it wasn't as if we weren't being creative on the management side of the equation as well. We planned a lot, were aggressive in looking for new sources of income and wrote interesting proposals. We put systems in place to take care of staff and collections, track finances, report progress and detect problems. We were usually at the head of the line in exploiting changes in the law, new technologies, and opportunities for collaborating. We were honest when things didn't work and always tinkering with better ways of organizing things. But for all that good work, things came unglued organizationally by the sixth and seventh years. This early part of the leadership chapter catalogs some of the behind-the-scenes and largely invisible stories that matched the more obvious evidence that was visible to both public and professional visitors that the museum was changing in big ways!