Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Sector 2: Building Your Internal Coalition

In at nutshell: "Leadership is relationship."
How do I get board members more engaged? How do I motivate my staff and volunteers to change?

"Leadership is relationship," according to James Kouzes and Barry Posner (social scientists who have been systematically studying leadership for 25 years). So they might (and I would) claim that you engage and motivate one of your most valuable resources – the people who make up your internal coalition – by focusing more on your relationships with them and less on short-term end products.

The pressure to produce – exhibits, attendance, funds – is strongly reinforced by our visitors, our funders, and the bills that show up in the mailbox. And establishing and achieving goals (as Cinnamon will describe in Sector 4) is a key component of success. But rarely is there an outside pressure that reminds small museum leaders how foundational creating trusting and empowering relationships is to long-term success. Harvard Business School recently redefined leadership: "Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that impact lasts in your absence."

So how do we make this happen?

Begin with the heart of your museum and clarify or establish your mission with board, staff and volunteers. Talking about mission should not be about "wordsmithing." Encourage conversations about what your museum does and why your work matters to your community. Be sure to share (or better have someone else share) the stories that make your heart swell. Arm your coalition with stories of children returning with their parents after a school tour, or the visitor who shed a tear over the painting that reminded him of his mother, or the genealogist who discovered the first photo she'd ever seen of her great-grandfather in your collection. Use your mission to refocus and remind your board, staff and volunteers about what is most important.

In working with your board, consider asking board members to share their "passion stories" about why they joined. Then tie those stories back to aspects of your mission and use them to motivate discussion about what kind of board members your museum really needs. If your goals require the museum to raise money, forge connections to new audiences or partners, or develop expertise in construction, marketing or management, then you can recruit board members to help you meet your goals. Encourage those in leadership roles on the board and those involved in nominating to recruit for those skills and connections and to lay the groundwork with board members who don't meet those needs to transition into a different relationship with the museum. And as you move toward a more engaged board, include board development and education as a part of the conversation. Most board members would like to learn how to fulfill their role even better, so provide them with small doses of museum standards and best practices. Serving on the board shouldn't be about attending a few meetings: that is not a relationship. Instead, board service should be about developing a stronger connection with a valued organization that knows what it wants each board member to bring to the table.

In working with your staff and volunteers, think about building a team. If a sports team is a useful analogy for you, then think about your role as coach or quarterback. But if sports teams are a bit foreign, you might think about a weight watchers group or a chess club. These groups push each member to be more successful and provide camaraderie, even if their pursuits are individual.  Host regular staff and/or volunteer meetings that have a professional development component (museum standards, customer service, topical education) and also a social component (food, sharing mission stories, etc.). If possible, consider field trips to other museums with follow up conversations about what effective and ineffective and could apply to your site. And in your daily interactions, be aware of how small acts of encouragement reinforce the kind of work you want to see (and how being ignored or dismissed does not).

When you focus your interactions with board, staff, and volunteers around NOT ONLY reaching goals BUT ALSO about cultivating relationships, you help create a long-term foundation for ongoing success. Next week, we turn our focus outside the museum to consider your reputation in the community.

Stacy Klingler currently serves local history organizations as the Assistant Director of Local History Services at the Indiana Historical Society. She began her career in museums as the assistant director of two small museums, before becoming director of the Putnam County Museum in Greencastle, Ind. She was chair of the AASLH Small Museums Committee (2008-2012) and attended the Seminar for Historical Administration in 2006. While she lives in the history field, her passion is encouraging a love of learning in any environment.

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