The People Theme

An overview and response to MMM’s investigation into the competencies, qualities and attributes which will enable creative practitioners and organisations to thrive in the challenging environment of the 21st Century By Russell Willis Taylor President and CEO National Arts Strategies

About this paper
In 2009 MMM commissioned a research project entitled The People Theme. This purpose of this project was to identify the competencies, qualities and attributes, which will enable creative practitioners and organisations to thrive in the challenging environment of the 21st Century. The full research report can be found here.

This further analysis is intended both to summarize the findings and suggest ways in which they may be useful to arts leaders, policy makers and funders in directing resource toward strengthening the management capacity of individuals and the field as a whole.

The People Theme: A Context for the Research
The current economic downturn has dramatically exacerbated the challenges facing the nonprofit arts in Britain. However, long before this most recent period of financial turmoil, most arts organizations were already “over-extended and undercapitalized, with organizations trying to do more things than they can possibly do well.”1 This lack of capacity on all fronts, in concert with a dramatic downturn in available resources, has been further complicated for organizations and leaders by a global trend in the “democratization” of culture, enabled by a broad range of new technologies. The traditional role of the nonprofit arts organization is being challenged even as resources for all types of nonprofit activity are under threat. In many cases the response has been to do more work of the same type, and to perpetuate organizational forms that look almost identical to those that came before the crisis point. As this is clearly not sustainable, the current environment highlights that new approaches to leadership and the development of a new set of core competencies are simultaneous and urgent imperatives if the nonprofit arts are to continue to play a vital role in British civil society. MMM commissioned this research in response to these imperatives.

Editorial Approach
The full report has a “point of view,” openly expressed by the authors and reflected in the research methodology. Their view is that the ideal state of the cultural field would be one of relative equilibrium: Providing real value for audiences and society while providing satisfying, rewarding work for arts leaders. This equilibrium would use an appropriate level of resource at all levels: environmental, financial, intellectual, and emotional. Identified as a “life friendly approach to thriving” maintaining this steady state requires cultural leaders to have a high degree of adaptability and responsiveness to the world outside of the arts. The report also highlights the need for a high degree of self-awareness in cultural leaders. This quality is reported by many of the research respondents to be essential for the type of


Adrian Ellis, Mission Models & Money: new ways of sustaining the arts in the UK, MMM 2004

resilience that effective leadership requires. This contention is widely supported by a wealth of contemporary leadership literature unrelated to this study, some of which is noted in the bibliography. The authors hope that their research supports a theory put forward by the International Futures Forum: Cultural leadership challenges may offer an opportunity to encourage and observe the development of competencies, qualities and attributes (CQAs) which could benefit many other fields and society as a whole. The authors support the notion that both the nature of the work and the aptitude of many in the cultural field make it an ideal testing ground for the rapid acquisition of these change management skills, and a possible model for other fields. An increased investment in the competencies of arts leaders could demonstrate -- in a field more open to new ideas than some other professional fields --how to develop the personal and professional skills that we as a society will rely on in the next century.

Competencies, Qualities and Attributes
The research frames and then explores 78 skills, behaviours and attitudes that enable leaders to adapt to rapid change. The range of these “CQAs” extends from the personal to the professional, and is intended to provide a framework for the development and education of leaders in the future.2 This applied rather than theoretical aspect of the findings could assist funders and leaders alike in determining where to allocate scarce resources to increase overall leadership capacity in the field. The competencies were determined by conducting an extensive literature review, which incorporates a very broad range of thinking on the organizational, situational, and psychological aspects of leadership. The research team sought to contextualize the different aspects of leadership within the cultural field, and the complexity of the leadership challenges facing individuals is reflected in the array of literature that seeks to illuminate the topic of leadership. 3 The CQAs are an informed distillation of the specific activities and propensities that are most likely to ensure success in a cultural endeavour.


The research is not designed to address fundamental management skills or art form expertise. Report Bibliography available at:


The research methodology, detailed in the full report, included several layers of personal interviews and extensive self-reporting questionnaires. The final sample size of 254 respondents, chosen at random, is representative of cultural leaders for all sizes and types of organizations throughout the UK. The final phase of the methodology included testing the identified competencies with 28 survey respondents who had been successful (selfidentified) in achieving outcomes where one or more of the competencies was relevant. This provided a reality check from practitioners in the field about the list of competencies. A detailed listing of these competencies is contained within the diagrams in Appendix A. This complete listing can be sorted into two broad categories: I. Factors within a leader’s control (internal, personal, operational) II. Factors which are external and therefore unpredictable Within these two broad categories there are “clusters” of competencies that have intellectual congruence, and could be addressed collectively within the boundaries of each cluster when considering both training design and further investment in current training programs. I. Factors within a leader’s control  Cognition  Effectiveness  Resilience  Interpersonal skills  Self awareness  Values  Wellbeing II. External factors  Policy shifts  Cultural and consumer behaviour trends  Media interests  Environmental and ecological resource changes  International stability (financial and political)

Conclusions and Recommendations
The value of this research lies in two areas: its recognition of core competencies as an important area of study and consideration, and its practical taxonomy for leaders and those interested in the development of leaders. Core competencies within organizations and individuals are often overlooked, and yet they form the basis for competitive advantage in any field. Most organizations focus on outputs as the measure of their success, and think about what they make as the direction in which all resource should flow. But it is the core competencies of organizations and individuals that allow them to develop what the great business writer C.K. Prahalad has called “industry foresight” – the developed ability to see where resource should flow in the future to be sustainable, and – in the case of the nonprofit arts – to achieve mission.4 By identifying and characterizing these competencies, this MMM research offers an invaluable tool for individuals and organizations to audit their own competencies and see where improvement would begin to make a profound difference in the way they progress toward mission achievement. By viewing core competencies within the larger framework of satisfying work (see Appendix B) the researchers have created a more holistic framework for considering what healthy organizations look like. The research is a detailed look at the specific areas for personal and professional development that yield the greatest benefits with regard to leadership resilience and emotional stamina, and thus offers a practical taxonomy for leaders and funders alike. Firmly rooted in the applied wisdom of practitioners in the field, it provides both a bibliographical guide to a significant body of leadership writing and a taxonomy of abilities that cultural leaders will need if they are to adapt to an environment where the only certainty is uncertainty. Assuming that the basic foundational skills (financial, art form knowledge, general management) are present, these abilities can make the difference between success and failure in leading an organization. As outlined above, the two clusters of competencies can be of value to leaders as they train for (I) factors within their control, and to funders as they recognize and address (II) the external factors that will have an impact on an organization’s performance in a grant agreement.


C.K. Prahalad, Competing for the Future, Harvard Business School Press, 1994.

The research should also assist policy makers and funders seeking to invest in training that will increase the confidence and competence of cultural leaders. It should be of interest to individual leaders reflecting on their own performance and how training could improve leadership practice. In highlighting people as the greatest resource in arts and culture, MMM have paved the way for an informed appraisal of where greater investment and further investigation could advance and even change the field.

End Notes:

About Mission, Models, Money (MMM): MMM is a network of individuals and organisations in the UK and beyond whose vision is to transform the way the arts use their resources to support the creation and experience of great art. Details on its work can be found at

About the author: Russell Willis Taylor, President and CEO of National Arts Strategies since January 2001, came to England in 1984 at the invitation of the English National Opera (ENO) to establish the Company's fund-raising department. During this time, she also lectured extensively at graduate programs of arts and business management throughout Britain. From 1997 to 2001, she rejoined the ENO as executive director. Mrs. Taylor has held a wide range of managerial and Board posts in the commercial and nonprofit sectors including the advertising agency DMBB; head of corporate relations at Stoll Moss; director of The Arts Foundation; special advisor to the Heritage Board, Singapore; chief executive of Year of Opera and Music Theatre (1997); judge for Creative Britons; and lecturer on business issues and arts administration. She received the Garrett Award for an outstanding contribution to the arts in Britain, and served on the boards of A&B (Arts and Business), Cambridge Arts Theatre, Arts Research Digest, and the Society of London Theatre. Currently serving on the advisory boards of The University Musical Society of the University of Michigan, Salzburg Global Seminar, The Curtis Institute, and the Center for Nonprofit Excellence in Charlottesville, Mrs. Taylor is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.

Appendix A MMM’s list of competencies, qualities & attributes (CQAs)

Making sense of a changing world
Scanning + interpreting environment Recognising patterns + make connections between things Synergising different information together Insightful about people and situations Seeing bigger picture Working at level of detail Conceptual Thinking

Seeking out challenges Taking considered risks Encouraging oneself + others to learn from mistakes Taking time to reflect Using feedback to learn + improve

Flexibility to adapt
Being open to changing one’s mind Using one’s initiative Working with traditional + new Using one’s CQAs in different situations Applying knowledge in different contexts Allowing strategies to emerge

Preferences for communication & learning Personality style / character type Prejudices How to get into resourceful state Paradox of being in control/not in control

A na lyt ic al th in ki ng

Impact Finding ways forward
Creative thinking Asking questions to open up possibilities Working across boundaries Playing with ideas Thinking / doing things differently Valuing diversity Being open to other perspectives + ideas Strategic thinking Finding win-win solutions Co-creating conditions where others can excel in their own ways Considering impact of actions from multiple perspectives Feeling empathy for others Sense of social responsibility Actively care for nature

Reality check
Being open to being challenged Actively listening Questioning and challenging assumptions / frameworks

Clear communication
Written + verbal skills Actively listening Using web 2.0 + social media Telling compelling stories

Managing relationships
Connecting with others Handling conflict Building trust Creating mutual respect Perceptive of group dynamics Building & nurturing relationships Perceptive of others needs & preferences Finding others to complement own CQAs Drawing own boundaries/ rules of engagement

Making things happen
Identifying + exploiting new opportunities Responding in timely way Knowing when to move on Focusing on solutions not problems Recognising what is needed in particular circumstances Making spontaneous decisions Using intuition to make important decisions Pragmatic

Coping with uncertainty + ambiguity Motivating oneself Passionate + committed in things get involved with Accepting oneself Seeing problems as opportunities Being positive + optimistic

Willing to hold others to account Challenging others in supportive way Matching one’s words with actions Modelling behaviour one wishes to see in others Helping others feel comfortable with change Motivating others Acknowledging mistakes to others Taking responsibility for self + for one’s role in what’s happening

Appendix B: MMM’s definition of Thriving
Through The People Theme, MMM seeks to help equip individuals, organisations and the arts and cultural sector as a whole to thrive, excel, flourish, be successful and sustainable in a world of ever–increasing change and uncertainty. For the purposes of creating clarity of meaning in our research, we developed our own values-based definition of thriving as a way of being/doing that integrates key concepts of relevance, resilience and ethical practice:
Adapting to changing conditions in a life-friendly way to people and planet in order to maintain the function of making great work happen

In nature, it is when changing is the only way for an organism to maintain itself, that change is prompted5. We propose that it is only when all 3 dimensions of relevance, resilience and ethical practice overlap that thriving in uncertainty is truly realised.

Adapting to changing conditions SUSTAINABILITY RELEVANCE

Impacting on people + planet in life-friendly way ETHICAL PRACTICE

Maintaining function of making great work happen



Margaret Wheatley 1999

We would emphasise that ‘thriving’ is not a fixed state: it is an emergent property of the complex interaction of CQAs and influencing factors in a specific situation. So we will not be producing a ‘one size fits all’ model: it would be overly simplistic and not very useful. By life-friendly to people and planet we mean having a benign impact on quality of life. Including this ethical dimension was vital because we do not wish to advocate that people make great work happen at just any cost, either to themselves, to other people or to plants and animals.



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