Tag Archives: entitlement

Self-Absorbed Executive Search Firms: You’re Lovely, You’re Talented, You’re Dreamy. But Tact is Not Among Your Strengths.

patting-own-back

On behalf of all candidates, to executive search firms:

“Thank you so much for your 3 [hour-long] phone interviews.  I presented 8 tremendously qualified candidates to the client and unfortunately, you were not selected.  But your loss is [company’s] gain.  I’ll keep your info on file and contact you if something comes up.”

We may like you, but it’s not why we applied to that job you’re representing. Your client’s happiness with you means nothing to us.

One hour would have been plenty, not three.

A simple “no, thanks” is more palatable than “didn’t I do a good job?”

Please don’t insult us with passive-aggressive jibber-jabber – we know you’re not going to contact us unless we apply to another client of yours.

And please don’t tell us about other candidates.  If we’re not among them, we really don’t care.

Advertisements

Feedback from You (yes, you): 9 Words That Describe the Nonprofit Arts Issues That Are Placing You at the End of Your Rope

rope

This blog, as most are, is pretty much one-way.  I share experiences, advice, consultation, and observations; you read ’em.  I can discuss 1,000 issues that affect nonprofit arts organizations.

But that’s me.

What keeps you up at night?

What concrete issue (not just “there’s no funding for…”) is fraying your rope?  Or better, what issues are figuratively tying a noose around the end of your rope?

Here’s your assignment.  In 9 words (no more, no less), write that issue and send it to info@137words.com.  That’s it.  Beginning in August, we’ll periodically take each issue and I’ll give my take.  Then we’ll open up the discussion to everyone who reads 137 Words.  Let me know if you’d like your name in or if you’d like to be anonymous.  And if you’d like my help privately, let me know that, too.

Nonprofit Arts Organizations Without Flexibility Present a Disconnect When It Really Matters

Orlando

On September 12, 2001, we issued an internal memo at our nonprofit arts organization.  We proffered the notion that standing by our programming and “moving forward” was the best way to fight back.

We were wrong.  Putting on blinkers never helps.

On June 12, 2016, after one attack in Orlando and a foiled one in Santa Monica – key nonprofit arts organizations are right now readying memos rationalizing the same advice.

Move forward.  That’ll show ‘em.

At what tipping point do we scrap activities to reflect the damage inflicted on people?  Why must we wait for a year to see the first artistic responses?  Why not now?  Why worry about the production quality of said response?  As nonprofits, when do we sacrifice our comfort zone to provide leadership to our communities for some resolution?

Or should we just move forward?  Yet again?

Nonprofit Arts Board Members, Executive Directors, and Staffs: Has Your Board Been Assimilated? Have You?

BORG-CUBE

Board membership for a nonprofit arts organization is a privilege. It requires commitment of time and money.  It requires the urge to change things for the better.

It’s not for self-aggrandizement.  It is not about being thanked endlessly.  It’s not about banquets, galas, and being fed.

It’s a job.

Group thinking can be inspirational, but “groupthink” can poison your organization’s health.  When your board only votes unanimously, for example, or the newly-approved mission is just reverse-engineered to current activities and reduced to pabulum, you may no longer have a board.  You may instead have a Borg.

Borg members wait for orders.  They don’t debate.  Resistance is futile.

The Borg is powerful.  Borg Presidents lead by autocracy.  Borg Queens (often founders) drive staff away by insisting the organization’s activities revolve around them. Borg Drones atrophy.

Board or Borg?

Nonprofit Arts Executives: After the Ask (for anything, actually), It’s Fast “Yes,” Slow “No”… Try a Slow “Yes” Instead

nofrog

If you don’t hear right away, it’s probably “no.”

That goes for asks, offers, hiring, and anything else you require.

And that goes for you, too, when your stakeholders ask, offer, hire, and anything else they may require.

Reflection is the predictable path toward rationalization to the “no.”  This is why the phrase “upon reflection” is almost always followed by a version of “we’ve decided not to change.”  After all, as a rule, it’s easier not to change than to take a risk.

Many arts charity executives preach the glory of “managed risk” (an oxymoron, of sorts) and value fiscal responsibility above social impact.  To be clear, social impact is central to the success of the mission; fiscal responsibility is a valuable business practice.

If “yes” leads to greater impact, then stop saying “no”… especially upon reflection.

Artists and Non-Offensiveness: The Tyranny of Over-Sensitivity, Feelings, and Participation Trophies

safespaces

There’s a troubling trend.  There’s an absurd unwillingness to offend that seems pervasive among arts creators.

Not that creators are creating “Pleasant Art,” per se.  Writers and artists are creating lots of work that is designed to make audiences uncomfortable.  Which is good.  The work may be about single issues and not terribly complex, but it’s good.

However, there are too many artists raised in atmospheres where everyone wins, even when they lose.  In the name of inclusion and self-esteem, they live in a world where, like toddlers, “feeling bad” is simply unacceptable.

They believe they’re special.

To these artists:

  1. You are not special.
  2. You do not deserve success.
  3. Sometimes you lose.

It’s what you do with that information that defines you.

If you believe that nobody should ever have hurt feelings, you’re not doing your job.

Leadership Issues: Flop Sweat, Board Meetings, and When You Lose the Room

nixon_2051821c.jpg

Inevitably, there are moments where analysis disconnects with sentiment.  You plan by yourself and generate work for your staff.  Your staff objects.  You have misread the room and caused great resentment.  They think you’re a nut.

You’re in a big job interview.  The interviewers say they want to “have a conversation,” but instead read from a pre-chosen list of questions.  You try to converse.  They bridle, citing “fairness.”

Your meetings with the board leave you rolling your eyes…and leave them rolling their eyes as well.  You think they don’t understand the problem.  They’re sure you don’t.

When you lead by pronouncement rather than by consensus; when you define interviews as interrogations; when you perceive meetings with superiors as continual performance evaluations – these are your issues, not theirs.  That anxious sweat on your neck is on you.

Arts Organizations: 137th Post, 137 Thanks, and 137 (of Other People’s) Words That Guide Inspiring Leaders

erasse2

“We must reject the idea — well-intentioned, but dead wrong – that the primary path to greatness in the social sectors is to become “more like a business.” Most businesses…fall somewhere between mediocre and good.” (Collins)

“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.” (Thoreau)

“People don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it.” (Sinek)

“When they say things like, we’re going to do this by the book, you have to ask, what book? Because it would make a big difference if it was Dostoevsky or, you know, ‘Ivanhoe.'” (Anderson)

“‘To be is to do.’ (Socrates)  ‘To do is to be.’ (Sartre)  ‘Do be do be do.’ (Sinatra)” [Vonnegut compilation]

How You Can Solve Diversity With Your Nonprofit Arts Organization!

race

You can’t.

Arts organizations challenge, reflect, and engage.  They don’t solve.

And remember, race is only one small bit of cultural diversity, not all of them.  Just as the opposite of love isn’t “hate,” but “indifference;” the opposite of diverse isn’t “white,” but “homogeneous.”

I read a political blog recently about the Democratic Party presidential race.  What troubled me were these words:

“What I’m crossing my fingers for is that in ten years or so we’ll get… a young,
charismatic democratic socialist who runs for president. (Preferably this
candidate would be a woman or a non-white person or, ideally, both.)”

Isn’t that parenthetical statement just as intolerant as one where “not” had been inserted after “would?”

Diversity isn’t only about race or gender or any of myriad other categories.  It’s about power, shared equally, with specific impact.

Ils pétent plus haut que leur cul. Marketing Intellectual Pursuits to an Anti-Intellectual Public, Right-Cheer In These You-Nited States of Murrica

Shakespeare Marx

In the arts, we want to attract more people. Or do we just want more us?

We’re asked to produce vision, impact, and engagement.  We embrace entertainment, but only if it’s at a 120+ IQ level.  Even abject silliness on stage is only acceptable if it’s “smart.”

Case in point:  the brilliantly entertaining, best-people-in-the-world-to-hang-out-with, fucking funny Reduced Shakespeare Company.

When another company produces an RSC script, they almost apologize in their marketing:

RSC: “it’s not the length of your history that matters – it’s what you’ve done with it!”

Other: “Between the rampant nationalism and the recent election, we think it more vital than ever for us to show we’re capable of laughing at ourselves. It, too, is part of the healing.”

Populism in the arts is an open path to success.  Risk being fucking funny, not drolly meaningful.

Life on the Unraveling Nonprofit Arts Fringe: Why Hiring Experience and Guile Trumps Everything Else

Actor Hugh O’Brian is said to have coined “The 5 Stages of an Actor’s Career;”

  1. Who is Hugh O’Brian?
  2. Get me Hugh O’Brian.
  3. Get me a Hugh O’Brian type.
  4. Get me a young Hugh O’Brian.
  5. Who is Hugh O’Brian?

We’re in contact with hundreds of highly-experienced, resilient people who have made a career in the arts – and they’re having difficulties getting back into the field.

Some of it is ageism. Boards use headhunters to find smart young guns to lead departments or organizations — only to find that instead, they’ve hired brilliant 2-year placeholders with few people skills, entitlement issues, little flexibility, and quick parachutes.

Studies show those >50 stay longer than those under <40, are more productive, have better improvisational skills and flexibility, and are likelier to bring success.

Forget headhunters.  Do your own search.  Hire someone better than you.

Change Management and the Psychology of Surprise

bluefin-tuna-feeding

I’m continually surprised by surprise announcements.

Seattle does not tolerate surprise announcements well.  I’m not sure of a place where surprises go well, but in a city fomenting the crucible of passive-aggressive behavior (see this article for some fun), change without tortuous committee meetings is, well, gauche.

Recently, KUOW (Greater Seattle NPR news/talk licensed by the University of Washington) issued a surprising announcement that they’ve signed a deal to buy KPLU (Greater Seattle NPR news/jazz licensed by Pacific Lutheran University).  Evidently, Pacific Lutheran University’s broke.

FYI:  KUOW once purchased another non-commercial station, KXOT, to carry its KUOW2 programming.  That failed.

Listeners/Members hate the idea and said so at a meeting on November 23. KPLU kept soliciting memberships even after the deal was signed.

KUOW comes off as untrustworthy, KPLU as desperate.

Seattleites are pissed off.

Surprise!

Stay tuned.

The Christmas Arts Season is Almost Here: Time for Much Mooing and Missions Drifting Higher than the Plowed Snow Blocking your Driveway

cashcow

Once there was a theatre company that produced new plays.  However, during the holiday season, they produced “A Christmas Carol.”

Foundation leaders that supported this company asked one day, “Why do you produce ‘A Christmas Carol’ when it has nothing to do with your mission or the rest of your activities?”

“Because,” said a truthful board president, “it’s our ‘cash cow.’ And we need to milk it for all its worth to pay for everything else we do.”

“Oh,” said the foundation leaders.  “Does it?”

“Yes,” said the president.  “It’s a good thing, too.”

The leaders huddled together.

“That’s wonderful,” they said.  “It follows, then, that we can now fund companies whose mission aligns with ours.  With your ‘cash cow,’ you don’t need us.  Thank you!”

And then they cut funding to the theatre company to zero.

Differentiating Between What’s Great About the Arts and What’s Great About YOUR Arts Organization

economic impact argument again eecard

You can look anywhere to discover what’s important about the arts.  Try here, here, here, here, and here for starters.

The key to “sustainability” (which, as previously written, is not “survival”) is proof that your particular arts charity is achieving specific community goals.

Each social service and social justice charity measures its results toward the execution of their mission.  Those results have a direct link to funding and community support.  Your arts charity, then, must find results that apply specifically to your organization.

Charitable results cannot be measured by paid attendance or positive economic impact.  Those are commercial results and byproducts — data used by sports teams to get cities to build them stadiums or by entertainment conglomerates to allow regions to let them build casinos.

So what makes your arts charity charitable?  Answer that and you’re 99% there.

[A Performance] Space: The Final Frontier – Don’t Own It and Find Someone to Donate Some

Don’t own your own performance space.  It’s a liability, not an asset.  Balance sheet be damned.

An asset is something you can sell.  No one wants to buy a theatre…unless it’s to tear it down.  And if it’s an Historic Building, run like the wind.

This isn’t just avoiding an “Edifice Complex.”  Unless, of course, you adore unending capital campaigns to rebuild the defects your company “cheaped out” on.  Find funding for what you do, not where you do it.

That said, one of the most overlooked ways in which a board member can help an organization is to provide eternal, free nearby office space for the company (there’s never enough inside the theatre).  It’s a major tax deduction and the perfect in-kind gift – one that actually removes a necessary expense from the budget.

Confusing the Messenger with the Message: Artistic Direction Fulfills the Arts Organization (Not Vice-Versa)

chefs

Being a great director has little to do with being a great artistic director.

Directors direct projects.  Artistic directors use a collection of projects to fulfill a mission that serves a community.  These are completely separate skills.

ADs who direct some projects for their own company risk treating those projects as precious.  Too often, they break rules for their project (organizational mission, budget, marketing, etc.) that they would never allow an “outside” director to break.

And in too many cases, when the identity of a nonprofit arts organization is too closely entangled with the vision of an artistic director, the organization’s brand is that much more difficult to recuperate when inevitable leadership change occurs.

After all, succession is not merely an artistic director handpicking a successor, is it?  A company is greater than any individual leader, right?

The Psychology of Being Last and 4 Other Ways to Level the Board Meeting Room Table

boringspeechBoard meetings are often reporting festivals.  Endless polite reports reminiscent of “what I did last summer” essays from the first day of elementary school.  It’s too bad.

Calculate the hourly consulting rate of the people in the room (for example, 15 board members x $100/hour = $1,500/hour).  At $1,500/hour, do you want to talk about the past or the future?

Board members, inside the meeting room…

  • Never do what the last person in the conversation advocates. It’s a trick manipulative people do.
  • Consensus is not unanimity; votes needn’t be unanimous. After the decision is made, however, everyone needs to back it.
  • No devil’s advocates; take responsibility for your disagreement.
  • Read the ED’s report beforehand. EDs: issue your report at least a week before the meeting.
  • Your ED is not responsible for writing and executing your strategic plan. You are.

“In This Scene, Could You Be a Little Funnier?” – A Perspective on Performance Reviews

7b9ba29042c4cce4a2af9c7581f20f3c

“Fire ’em the first time you think about it.” This was the mantra of the board chair of a company with which I was affiliated. I’ve always appreciated the portion that means that I should know when things are not working with a company or individual – from the perspective of employer or employee.

Which brings me to performance reviews. Gack. Many formal performance reviews within arts organizations waste time and energy and breed unnecessary anxiety.  That’s not to say that you shouldn’t do them – but do them continually rather than once a year or when a contract demands it.

If your company has a horrible work environment, a performance review is about as helpful as a Band-Aid on a heart attack. Similarly, if the environment is open-minded, so should your inter-reactions.  You’ll know if it’s working out.

Quantifiable Outcomes and Social Impact Applies to All Nonprofits – Including Arts Organizations

if-quantifiable-outcomes-arent-important-then-i-can-fire-my-whole-development-team-and-just-do-what-i-want-yay-me-7dc56

Oh, I can hear it now.

“See?” they’ll say.  “People don’t care about outcomes when they make donations.  The Washington Post said so.  Ergo: we don’t need outcomes.”

To come to that conclusion is just whistling past the graveyard.

Remember these hard facts:

  • The arts are not mentioned in section 501 (c) (3) of the US tax code (you know…the law). The arts fall under “charitable organizations,” which require a measure of public good.
  • Using the arts as a cover for an individual’s vanity vision is fine, as long as it’s a commercial venture. Once you pull the taxpaying public into it, ethics demand an outcome.
  • The arts can be transformative, both on a commercial and nonprofit level. What differentiates the nonprofit is that a measurement of positive change of the human condition is necessary to rationalize funding.

Just Because Someone Repeats It Doesn’t Make It True: Nonprofit Arts Organizations Must Serve a Charitable Purpose or Die Trying

Crossing fingers

Supposedly, Martin Van Buren wrote to Andrew Jackson imploring Jackson not to approve the railroads for fear of the loss of the canal system, citing mass unemployment, the closing of boating businesses, and the fear of trains moving at breakneck speeds of 15 mph.  It never happened.  I checked.

In W. P. Kinsella’s Shoeless Joe, “If you build it, they will come” was actually “If you build it, he will come” and referred to the farmer’s father.  Not “If you build an arts center, thousands of new patrons will come, regardless of programming.”  Read the book.

There is another fabrication that arts organizations are nonprofits simply by being arts organizations.  It’s not true.  I checked.

All over the US, there are myriad arts nonprofits that don’t serve a charitable purpose.  Rightfully, foundations are noticing and diverting funds elsewhere.

Aphorisms for the Modern Arts Charity Leader

Fortune Cookie

If it ain’t broke, break it. Then fix it.

You only read books in one direction.

Your legacy ends when you leave.

Institutional survival is not the goal.

Missions are gods; mission statements are bibles.

The best leaders are the best assistants.

Learn why before you continue.

Success is measured by impact, not excellence.

“Fiscal responsibility” is a business practice, not a mission statement.

Volunteers are employees who work for $0.

If your people are averaging 50+ hours a week, you’re failing.

Always use transitive verbs in your mission statements.

The cool kids are back in high school.

Sharpen your point of view; that’s why it’s a point.

Be completely, spectacularly wrong.

Treat candidates like employees.

Treat employees like human beings.

Treat human beings as though you are one.

Fire yourself regularly; interview yourself for your job.

Be funnier.

Teenagers and Arts Charities – Screaming for Attention and Hiding on Exam Day

hoodyTK (The Kid) is 16 now. TK is alternately sullen and wild, certain and insecure, questioning and answering. TK wants. TK is desperate about lots of things. TK doesn’t wash dishes, brush teeth, or do homework without daily prompting. TK sometimes screams for attention, then hides under a hoodie when asked for results – like a final exam. And there are entitlement issues.

Very much like many TKs out there, so I’m told.

Arts charities are equally desperate. They want. They’re certain and insecure. Some beg for funding. Some mature and discover that the measurable positive impact they produce is what people want. They scream for attention, rail at the threats to the NEA, then hide under the “art is for art’s sake” hoodie when asked for results – like a grant application. And there are entitlement issues.

Just sayin’.

Neither artists nor nonprofit arts organizations are entitled, they just act that way sometimes

Every kid wins trophies.

There are two possible takeaways from this fact:

a) Trophies don’t mean much; or
b) Every kid deserves trophies.

Or both.

If a), then the result is that external recognition must be useless.  Which means:

1)      We reward mediocrity.
2)      We foster cynicism to greatness.

If b), then the result is that external recognition must be unrelenting. Which means:

3)      We reward everything.
4)      We foster entitlement to greatness.

I have rarely seen folks as entitled as those in the performing arts today, at least here in Seattle, the epicenter of externally-based self-esteem.  I’ve known dozens of actors who have insisted that they’re too talented to audition. Dozens more of nonprofit arts organizations feeling too holy to follow a mission.

Consider: Oscar Isaac had to audition for the role of Llewyn Davis. It wasn’t handed to him.

%d bloggers like this: