Thursday, May 8, 2008

Looking at Leadership

Star D'Angelo, director of the Shaker Heritage Society in Albany, NY, sent these observations about board leadership after she read my post on a leadership session at AAM.

"Leadership is a subject that I have been contemplating for some time now. I wonder how I can be a better leader, why and if I want to continue acting as a museum director, how my work brings meaning to my life and how it serves the community...

I recently challenged my board to think more creatively abot the nominating process by cultivating individuals who are interested in things that may not seem immediately relevant to our museum mission. This included people interested in preserving open space, fair trade enterprise and micro loans to poor people who want to start a business, the growing interest in "simple living" or "green lifestyles," character education for children, encouraging public/private partnerships, etc. These are all things that are relevant to our situation our to Shaker history or values but we have yet to focus on them. Several of my board members called to say that they were inspired by these suggestions and are now thinking about more than just finding that key fundraising person (important but not necessarily inspiring!) or local history buff."

To me, Star's comments are really about the vision we have for our organizations. In her case, the vision of the creators of her site, the Shakers, is very clear and helped shape these ideas for new board members.

I think many historic sites and local museums were founded by people with a strong interest in "stuff." And so, the place becomes about that "stuff," rather than about a larger meaning. Star's suggestions can serve as a model for many interested in creating more diverse, more involved, more creative boards. Each site has a story to tell and finding those more creative board members may involve spending real time and effort to determine what those stories are, and how they resonate in today's society and in your own community.

As you find those new board members and involve them in your community, I suspect you may find new audiences, new members, and new partnerships. There's lots of current museum scholarship about individual meaning-making for visitors--but in this case a director has really put those meaning-making ideas in play within the context of leadership.

How can you identify and recruit new and different board members for your organization?

Photo: The Shaker Heritage Site, Albany NY, from

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