Story 11: Learning to Lead

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Kids, Families, and Dogs (1960s-1970s)

Written by Mike Spock

Way before the "permissive" era of the '60s and '70s, neighborhood kids were tolerated behind the scenes in offices and workspaces. In fact, they were welcomed, but in turn were expected to help out with simple administrative and project work and not interrupt grown-ups' trains of thought. Looking back on those times, former neighborhood kids and children of staff and board members, now fully-fledged adults, all report that those informal "apprenticeships" were critical to their becoming museum and other professionals.

We welcomed dogs behind the scenes as well—but not in collections. Some memorable museum dogs were Martha and Eunice who led Jim Zien, King who kept guard from under Karen Kessler's reception desk, and Julio who was "loaned" by David and Fran Burnham to Phyl O'Connell.

Ted Faldasz, head of maintenance, and his family lived on the museum's grounds serving as round-the-clock caretakers for the property. Faldasz kids David and Bryan helped out informally when Ted occasionally needed support. They weren't paid. However, a policy issue arose when members of Ted's family were invited to join the paid staff. It was a simple matter to include wife Natalie on the Visitor Center staff since she was hired by and reported to Elaine rather than to Ted. The rule was that you couldn't report directly to a member of your own family. Beyond that there was no precedent in the museum's policy manual, or for that matter in the American work place, for protecting the museum from organizational nepotism.

The policy developed for paying the Faldasz kids became the model for other staff families' members invited to join the paid staff. Two thing made the difference: first, all jobs had to be widely posted beyond the museum to make sure we actively recruited the less obvious candidates who didn't look exactly like us. And second, if we made exceptions, as we did with David and Bryan, and later Mike Fitzgerald and his sisters when they became adolescents and could qualify for paid jobs, the exceptions had to make sense within the museum context. Such rules had to be seen as helpful to everyone—staff and managers alike—not straightjackets or as ways of protecting ourselves.

We took such management responsibilities seriously but flexibly. We became a fairly tightly managed organization, but we were still small enough to deal with most issues personally and on a case-by-case basis. However, in the postpartum unwinding of organizational coherence after the move to the Wharf, the museum staff was no longer a self-regulating community. We had to take time to acknowledge that growth-fed loss and work together to fix the problems and regain our trust with each other.

Next: Getting in Bed with Jim (1968)