Story 11: Learning to Lead

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Interactive Leadership: What the Research Says

Written by Mike Spock

As happened in my life so many times before, most of the things I learned from trying to make sense of The Children's Museum's organization and my uneven leadership while doing the homework assignments and sitting around the easel in McBer's conference room ultimately seemed quite straightforward and natural: identify the obvious things to do/try next. At least for me, the things we ended up adopting were not based on organizational theory. As far as I could see, I was a nonconforming outlander using unconventional approaches that seemed to fit my non-standard personality and education. My McBer mentors were figuring out how to make me useful to the museum in spite of my quirky ways of seeing the world and the challenges it presented me.

Decades later, when I learned of new research based on comparative observations of successful and less successful organizations, I began to understand that the leadership strategies that we adopted not only fitted my non-standard education, but by then, my colleagues' and the museum's culture. They had become the model of the modern institutional leader.

In 2002, president/founder of the Burnham Rosen Group—and former McBer consultant and TCM board member—David Burnham wrote an article called "Inside the Mind of a World-Class Leader." In it he said, "In the 1970s, the Institutional Leader saw him/her self as the source of power. In other words, 'Leadership is something I do to others.' The new data from the follow-up research clearly indicate a significant change has taken place. The new Interactive Leader derives his/her power from others: the team, group or organization he/she leads. From this perspective, 'Leadership is something I do with others."

Next: Part IV: Looking Back: Issues That Defined Us