Rocco Landesman, National Endowment for the Arts' blog Art Works, 1/16/13

I've been officially retired now for 27 days, which seems like as good a time as any to reflect on my time at the NEA.  It was by chance, completely out of left field that the opportunity came up. Margo Lion -- who was the chairman of the President's Advisement Committee during the campaign -- after the 2008 election came in and said, "Can you think of someone who'd be a really good NEA chair?" I put my hand up and said, "I'll do it!"  It struck me that this would be a real chance to do something different than I had ever done in my life.  It would be an opportunity to meet new people and people who are very dedicated to making the country a better place. And that's exactly what happened.  I think the one thing that I learned early on about being NEA chair is that it's a political job. I don't think it's a policy job necessarily. I think it's very important that the agency make great grants and support great programs, but ultimately the mission is to advance the arts, both across the nation and throughout the federal government -- which means Congress, which means the administration. The power of personal contact is much more important than I ever thought it would be. It means going out to the district of a Congressperson or a senator and getting to know their constituents and getting to know them.  My advice to the next NEA chair would be -- be a generally nice person. Be out and about. Be around. Be accessible. Engage the people that you're dealing with. You cannot lecture them or pontificate, or just impart wisdom. You've got to enter into real conversations. You have to have a certain amount of humility and willingness to learn.


Commentary: Departing Kennedy Center leader has advice about his successor

Michael Kaiser, The Huffington Post, 2/19/13

It is official: I am a lame duck. My contract as President of the Kennedy Center expires at the end of next year and, after 12 years, it is time for someone with a new and different vision to run the national cultural center. I hope the [board's] Search Committee finds someone who can take the institution to new places and can educate and entertain our audience in ways I could not even imagine. But I would caution the Committee (and any other search committee working in the arts today) not to ignore several key 'truths':

  • The health of any arts institution emerges from its programming. While board members searching for a new leader often believe that fundraising skill and experience are the keys to success, no one can raise funds for a boring institution for very long.
  • There is not one correct way to run an arts institution. The board should not be looking for 'another Michael Kaiser.'  The search committee should be hoping to find someone who can tell a coherent story of their own that links programming, marketing and fundraising success.
  • The new leader must not alienate the remainder of the senior staff. The leader of every institution gets far too much of the credit when things go well. One must be very careful the new leader can work with those staff members who are most integral to the success of the organization.

Commentary: "Inside outsiders" can be key to succession planning for CEOs

Stefan Stern, Harvard Business Review Blog Network, 12/3/12

The BBC has just appointed its second new "director general" (equivalent to CEO) in the space of three months. The first, a seasoned insider called George Entwistle, came unstuck over the mishandling of two child sex scandal stories. Although (but also perhaps because) he was an insider with over two decades' experience at the BBC, Entwistle made too many mistakes to survive. His replacement, Tony Hall, also has over 20 years' service at the BBC -- but reached that point over a decade ago. He then left, in 1999, when he failed to win the top job. For the past 11 years he has been running the Royal Opera House. Amusingly, one of the things that counted against him back in '99 was that Hall had never worked outside the BBC and was seen as lacking commercial experience. When he takes up the job of DG in March, Hall may present us with a textbook case of what can be accomplished as an "inside outsider." He will bring with him a firm grasp of the essential character of the BBC -- a unique organization -- but with the perspective of someone who has been busy doing something else for the past ten years. The term comes courtesy of Harvard Business School's Joe Bower, who wrote the 2007 book The CEO Within: Why Inside Outsiders are the Key to Succession Planning. Hall is a variant of the model CEO candidate described. Inside outsiders are "people from the inside of the company who somehow have maintained enough detachment from the local traditions, ideology and shibboleths that they have retained the objectivity of an outsider," Bower wrote. "The successful CEO from inside must be able to look at his or her corporate inheritance as if he or she had just bought the company."


Rick Bond, ArtsProfessional magazine [UK], 1/26/09

I've been working with an established arts organisation which [had] muddled through with a board of long-serving, well-intentioned but wholly dormant trustees. It experienced a gradual decline in funding and political support, which it blamed on circumstances beyond its control. Its entire risk strategy appeared to be: "someone will bail us out - they always do". Something had to change, but the organisation was not huge and did not have money to throw at the challenge. But, last year, something happened: Three new trustees came on board, and three dormant trustees were graciously retired. What an impact the new faces have begun to make! Guided by a little external facilitation, the Chair and the Director [changed their by-laws to make it] legally necessary to appoint new trustees at suitably regular intervals [and] old trustees would have to retire (thus ensuring the board had no home for dead wood). The board therefore had to take the issue of succession planning seriously, as it meant three successors having to be found every year. Succession planning was included as a standard item on the agenda at every board meeting. To provide content for the agenda item, the board set up an appointments sub-committee to prepare a strategy, to research, cultivate and recruit new trustees. This afforded plenty of time to identify potential candidates, get to know them properly and establish if and how they might make a valuable contribution to the board's affairs. Strangely, Succession Planning became one of the most popular agenda items and a rich vein of productive discussion.  

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