July 20, 2015  • Arts Orgs

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf you’re new to this series, we’ve been exploring Bad Habits of Arts Organizations, which was originally inspired by an article in Inc. Magazine by Lolly Daskal: “8 Deadly Ways to Kill Employee Motivation.” What can we say? Some of Daskal’s words rang true. So we took her idea and ran with it…



Bad Habit #3: Forgoing managerial skills for leadership ones.

I’m so tired of reading about “leadership trends” and “successful leaders” when those trends and successes come at the expense of basic managerial skills.


Great management should come first. Excellent leadership is the icing on the cake. You can be a strong manager without ever rising to the level of a leader; in fact organizations need people with exactly those skills. But it is dangerous to find yourself in a leadership role without any basic managerial skills… Dreamers need doers to put dreams into action and to react nimbly to changing conditions so the dreams can survive, even if the day-to-day plans have to change.


Of the eight sins Daskal highlighted, at least three fall under what I would term “poor management.”


Lack of Vision

In my experience, arts leaders don’t lack vision. They sometimes lack enthusiasm for putting vision into action. After all, concocting a vision is infinitely more rewarding that executing it. (It comes with less risk too.)


And that makes great employees crazy for a few reasons. Often, there are unclear goals for the vision (or at least goals that aren’t realistic). Unclear goals are usually connected with an unclear evaluation process, preventing employees from seeing their own growth, progress, and development.


What’s more, executing a vision takes a tremendous investment of time and resources. And a leader that isn’t invested in that process often under cuts the work completed by his or her employees.


Wasted Time

Wasted time is the hallmark of poor management. It comes through poorly planned meetings, poor supervision, artificial deadlines, inefficient communications, and more. It sends a very clear message that the leader values his or her time more than he values the time of employees.


It’s also an indication of very poor management. Like it or not, management (whether we’re talking about managing people, managing a process, or managing a project) takes time. I plan an hour of planning for each day an employee will work, plus at least an hour of check-in time.


Without such preparation – Management 101 – leaders waste employees’ time.


Subpar Communication

Daskal talks about inadequate and poor communication and its disastrous results for employees. “A clear flow of communication benefits everyone,” Daskal writes.


And she is absolutely right. Inadequate or poor communication is an incredible waste of time.


But the cousin of inadequate communication is excessive communication, and poor managers struggle with both in equal measure. Excessive communication – failure to delegate, failure to allow employees to shine – is incredibly detrimental, particularly to the great employees.


Daskal concludes her article with the admonition: “Great people do not stay long in bad workplaces.” And great people who feel undervalued and are stymied by less-than-great people rarely help arts organizations grow and thrive.


Management may not be as sexy as leadership, but I’d bet on it every time.


If you’ve missed previous posts in this series, check out the first and second bad habits, Failure to Apportion Resources Creatively and Inability to Corral Toxic People.


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