Updated: Sep 3, 2020
Have you ever felt like there is so much to do, so many options to consider that you aren’t quite sure what to focus on next? Perhaps this is brought on by reduced staff or few known variables on which to plan. If you currently lead an arts organization, you probably know this feeling well. While the specifics may be new, managing through multiple challenges is not.
I was CEO of the Fort Wayne Philharmonic from 2006 to 2014. Toward the end of my tenure, I found myself fulfilling the roles of both the chief executive and director of marketing. Despite efforts from two different search firms, we were unsuccessful in filling the marketing spot for over a year. We also started contract negotiations with our musicians at the same time. The task of spinning multiple plates on sticks doesn’t fully contextualize what I was feeling during that time, but it comes close.
I was also determined to do this all on my own. After all, I was an experienced and intelligent orchestra executive. It didn't take long for some of the plates to start to wobble as I necessarily turned my attention to the myriad of other items I was juggling.
I knew at the time a thought partner could help me be a more effective leader, but I didn’t believe I had the mental space to invite one more “spinning plate” into the mix. Because hindsight is 20/20, I now understand that I was dealing with decision-making paralysis because I was overwhelmed by so many priorities and too few resources. I see now how a thought partner would have helped me navigate so many consecutive challenges, keep an eye on my blind spots, expand my thinking, and create new paths of action.
Having this support is key to combating professional and personal burn out. It is times like these that our organizations need us at our best.
The arts are facing unprecedented challenges. The future is unpredictable, and these challenges are getting increasingly difficult as time passes. If you haven’t already found someone to collaborate with, I encourage you to make this a priority. Potential partners could be:
• Your board chair or another board member.
• A trusted member of your staff leadership team.
• A close, super-loyal, patron.
If you desire a thought partner who has lived in your shoes, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d welcome the opportunity to support your organization, assist in creating new paths of action, and take a few of those spinning plates off your desk.
Stay calm, stay focused, and most importantly, take care of yourself.