Designing Better Leaders through Cross-Sector Collaboration

Posted by Anna Stokes, Tommy Butler, Apr 15, 2015 0 comments

There’s absolutely nothing revolutionary about leadership development. All across the country (and the world) opportunities to enhance and develop one’s professional skills seem to be popping up in every corner. But when the Arts + Business Council of Greater Philadelphia (ABC) won a challenge grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, we chose to take leadership development in a direction that encouraged arts administrators to not just think about themselves as nonprofit leaders but as Leaders, with a capital “L”.

According to Americans for the Art’s latest Creative Industries Report, the City of Philadelphia has the fifth highest percentage of arts-related jobs in a comparison of the 100 largest cities in nation (4.94%, including both for-profit and nonprofit creative industries). At number five, our creative community is both ahead of the pack and has room to grow, and what better way to grow this sector than to invest in its leaders.

Unlike other leadership development opportunities geared towards the non-profit sector, Designing Leadership does not focus solely on nonprofit arts and culture organizations and their specific pain points. Instead, the program’s curriculum, developed in partnership with IBM and The Wharton School, keys in to what skills make a great leader – regardless of their tax status. The unique mix of participants from the nonprofit AND for-profit creative fields has proven beneficial for the nonprofit participants.

“Leadership is cross functional and should not be segmented,” Jessica Sharpe, Director of Visitor Operations and Membership at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, told ABC. “It was very helpful to have a cross perspective on issues as they relate to both the for-profit and the not-for-profit organizations.”

Shortly after graduating from Designing Leadership’s inaugural class in the spring of 2014, Jessica applied the lessons learned to develop and submit a proposal to her senior executives outlining specific strategies calling for her to take on additional responsibilities at the museum. Jessica’s promotion isn’t unique among Designing Leadership graduates.

Laura Hortz-Stanton, another 2014 graduate, was recently promoted to Executive Director of the Conservation Center for Art & Historic Artifacts. She found the focus of the program refreshing as “so many workshops and programs get caught up in being industry specific that the integral principals are lost.”

By collaborating with participants from the for-profit creative sector, Laura was able to discuss and reflect on how for-profit and nonprofit business models can complement each other: “It was beneficial to see how individuals from different sectors approach collaborative projects and see how there are many instances where greater cross-pollination would benefit all involved.”

While we continue to see evidence that this cross-sector learning is beneficial, in our second year we still face challenges when recruiting for-profit participants. Unlike the traditional arts and culture community, the for-profit contingent of the Creative Economy in the Philadelphia region has yet to formally organize and self identify as a unified group. This means that recruitment efforts in the for-profit creative sector have been piecemeal; requiring a personal touch to pitch the value of the program to people who might not automatically think of themselves as part of this community. Our 2014 class of 29 participants was 24% for-profit and this year’s class of 43 is 26% for-profit. We firmly believe that an equal mix of nonprofit and for-profit creative individuals enhance the learning for both. While we’re slowly moving the needle, we’d like to see a class with 50% participation from the for-profit Creative Economy in 2016.

As an organization whose core mission relies on creating conversations between unlikely colleagues, the cross-discipline learning of Designing Leadership has been a crucial addition to our menu of opportunities for our region’s creative community. Next week we will be graduating our second Designing Leadership class, and we are eager to see how this year’s graduates put their newly minted leadership skills to work.

Interested in joining the conversation? Meet us in Chicago for the Arts Leadership Precon during Annual Convention 2015!

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