How does good leadership encourage change? RAGM implementation of Volunteer Makers programme.

Leadership Through Influence – Arts Connect Leadership Programme by 
Jessica Hartshorn, Learning and Outreach Officer, Rugby Art Gallery and Museum (RAGM)

 December 2017

[This is an extract of a 5000-word essay; work-based research project, integrating skills and knowledge from the Arts Connect leadership programme.]


Many organisations fail to move with the changing sectoral landscape and get left behind. Others find change too difficult, too uncomfortable and are fearful of the process and of something new. This essay aims to explore the influence a good and productive leader can have in motivating and enabling change to happen.

First it is important to discuss what leadership is, in order to see how it can make successful change happen. There are many leadership theories to draw upon and it is clear leadership can vary from person to person. A closer look at some of these theories, makes it apparent that although ‘management and leadership are different, both are important in making change happen. I have selected example definitions particularly focusing on leadership and change.

John Kotter in his book ‘Leading Change’ (1) defines management and leadership:

‘Management is a set of processes that can keep a complicated system of people and technology running smoothly. The most important aspects of management include planning, budgeting, organizing, staffing, controlling, and problem solving.

Leadership is a set of processes that creates organizations in the first place or adapts them to significantly changing circumstances. Leadership defines what the future should look like, aligns people with that vision, and inspires them to make it happen despite the obstacles.’

This clearly sets out the key areas of change: management is explained as the practicalities and skill based systems which make a project and change successful.

Leadership however, is identified as cultivating a confidence in the team to work towards a joint vision and goal. The suggestion is leadership is an overarching inspirational behaviour. This ability to inspire colleagues to deliver the vision irrespective of the leader’s presence is exhibited here:

‘Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence and making the impact last in your absence.’     Sheryl Sanberg. (2)

It is clear that not only do leaders have those who follow, but more importantly, inspire other mini leaders to continue the work without them, hence reiterating a positive behaviour. Leadership is, therefore, not a dictatorship or hierarchical but inspiring others to over-achieve. But to what end? Bradberry, also brings together both the above ideas of empowerment and team effort, but with the clear distinction that the ‘goal’, is what drives people forward. Without the clear vision and target to aim for, success is less likely.

  ‘Leadership is a process of social influence, which maximizes the efforts of others, towards the achievement of a goal.’      Bradberry (3)

Bradberry’s definition highlights the importance of increasing the efforts of others to achieve the goal. A leader can also be someone who seeks out and utilises opportunities in order to make change. It is important to ‘adapt’ and ‘empower’, particularly when the landscape is changing and to be flexible and quick thinking. There is value in empowering the team, giving them a sense of ownership and pride over the vision, this will help to move the task forward.

‘It is associated with taking an organization into the future, finding opportunities that are coming at it faster and faster and successfully exploiting those opportunities. Leadership is about vision, about people buying in, about empowerment and, most of all, about producing useful change. Leadership is not about attributes, it’s about behaviour.’     Kotter (4)

Why is change important in the cultural sector?

The cultural sector is constantly changing as a result of funding cuts, priorities and agendas being redirected, such as the current focus on health and wellbeing, means a shift in funds and programmes. As such, it is particularly vulnerable to financial cuts and is constantly justifying its value and worth, particularly to political leaders. To regularly adapt, the cultural sector needs good leaders who can support and motivate change. Staff are passionate about their positions and the roles they do, therefore to implement change, a good leader needs to appeal to their emotions and passion to achieve ‘buy-in’.

Successful change leadership however, is about encouraging individuals and teams to do things differently, to change the way they currently behave and to implement the changes of these new systems. It is also to recognise that by changing the way we work, staff roles and responsibilities may be altered and this may cause resistance.

A good leader will consider human responses to change when planning and delivering something new. A good leader can prepare and pre-empt these challenges by recognising that people have both a rational and emotional response to change.

Both Kotter and Cohen refer to ‘people – driven’ approaches and suggest these are successful methods of achieving change. This approach enables people to see and feel the changes, helping staff to make a visual connection as well as a connection at a deeper emotional level. This in turn, evokes a personal connection and focuses people to overcome barriers and change behaviours to strive for success.

As Kotter explains in John Kotter’s ‘Making Change Real – The Heart of Change: Real-Life Stories of How People Change Their Organizations’:

 ‘Successful change leaders identify a problem….. then they show this to people in ways that are as concrete as possible. They show with a vehicle you can see, hear and touch.’  (5)

Kotter and Cohen describe this method of change as ‘see, feel, change’ dynamic. They explain this method contrasts with a less successful method where leaders rely on analysis and data to convince staff to change. This method hopes staff will change behaviours based on facts and theory, but is less successful as behaviour fails to change.

The ‘people driven’ approach, contrasts also with other leadership models such as the hierarchical model, focusing on top down leadership. Although this model can have its benefits in certain sectors, driving projects forward in a dictatorial manner, where following a process is key, I don’t feel this model fits the cultural sector. Galleries thrive on ideas and creativity, therefore the more staff have an opportunity to work collaboratively, share and develop projects, the more innovative and adaptable the organisation can become. The ‘people driven’ approach and ‘see, feel, change’ dynamic supports this opportunity for development and growth and are methods I intend to explore.

Good leadership can come in many forms and I explored other cultural organisations and researched various examples of what good leadership looks like within the sector. I noticed many peers often display key qualities listed earlier in the essay such as trust building, empathy and personal resilience.

Hannah Fox, the Director of The Silk Mill, as part of Derby Museums, is an example of a strong leader in the sector. Rob Hopkins interviewed Hannah to explore ‘How a community’s imagination reshaped a museum.’ Hannah led her staff through a difficult period of change at the Silk Mill, which was near to closure. Rethinking the engagement model and volunteering, she has opened the doors to the public and asked ‘what do you want to see here’. Not only has she developed a pioneering vision, but she now has dramatically increased the number of volunteers who are physically helping to build the new museum through a ‘human-centred design’ model, which focuses on a co-production approach with the public.

After attending a two-day course at Derby Museums and hearing Hannah speak about her passion and enthusiasm to take the project forward, it was clear to me and my colleagues she was a good leader. Hannah demonstrated confidence, commitment and a creative approach to the organisations difficulties and inspired the staff, who were equally passionate and shared her clear vision of where they were heading. Hannah was compassionate and understanding on an emotional level and she talked about the team bringing ideas to the table and facing challenges together. Yet, she also had a thorough business plan and goals to aim for.  The interview with Hannah with Rob Hopkins displays this:

 ‘So your role is more of a facilitator and holding the space, rather than a conventional leadership role?

I think that’s what leadership should be, personally.  Absolutely, sometimes you have to be the pioneer, and you have to be the person that’s got the vision, or is forming the vision….But then I’m always conscious that if that’s the situation and something happens to me, then the risk of it all going back into the norms, or for it all to stop again are too big, so you have to spread the load of that vision.  You have to give a broader ownership, for others to feel that they are doing it too……….but also I think the momentum of the volunteers and the expectations of the people that it’s not just us doing it, but we are doing it together, for our collective good and for the good of our city, and our citizens, and each other, is true.’ (6)

The success in her leadership is exhibited not only by her increase of support and volunteers but the shared ownership of the project within the team and community. She developed leaders at all levels in staff and volunteer, who helped to drive the project forward in smaller areas of the project. She displays attributes discussed earlier such as inspiring and empowering others to move forward, together towards the new aims and vision. Hannah’s method of leadership could be likened to Heifetzs ideas of ‘adaptive leadership’, which presents leaders as enablers. The leader delegates and giving work back to staff at various levels in order for the team to own the project but coaches, facilitates and supports the process.

Current organisational thinking/policies around volunteering.

One opportunity for change is exploring how volunteering currently is viewed and delivered in the industry. Volunteering is integral to the resilience of the cultural sector. People of various ages and backgrounds give their time to support creative activities, projects and venues to help provide resilience for their programmes. In England 15.9 million people regularly volunteer, but this figure is falling and the Office for National Statistics states this has decreased by 7% in the last 3 years. Claire Sully, Director of Volunteer Makers explains during her introductory workshop:

‘The challenges are set by changing economics, changing volunteer profiles and digital engagement’.

Claire, is another sector role model, showcasing passion and vigour to achieve the Volunteer Makers vision of revolutionising what volunteering looks like, by using digital technologies and new ideas of micro-volunteering (small pockets of time).

Claire clearly identified above why we need to change our method of working with volunteers and what the reasons are for this. She recognises volunteer’s reasons for donating their time is beginning to change, with young people desiring to gain purposeful experience via digital interactions and online opportunities, such as research. She also recognises the importance and value of maintaining current volunteers and working together to develop the platform to meet the needs of the organisation.

Claire is inspiring and very self-aware and encouraged all members of her team and ours to be part of Volunteers Makers. During her initial workshop she demonstrated good leadership characteristics such as empathy, commitment, confidence, inspiration and provided information for different ‘types’ of people and their various learning styles. In her presentation she used a variety of statistics and visual and emotive stories, clearly demonstrating reasons why volunteering is altering (reasons for change) and provided a stepped approach to transformation. This was very similar to Kotter’s 8 step framework which I will explore later in the essay.

Download the full essay here: Change leadership Through Volunteer Makers _ Jessica Hartshorn, Change leadership Through Volunteer Makers _ Jessica Hartshorn _Appendix doc.

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