ECPN's Follow-Up to the Fall 2016 Webinar on Leadership – Q&A and Further Resources

The importance of leadership in conservation and developing leadership skills throughout one’s career is a rich topic that ECPN explored in the Fall 2016 webinar, Emerging Leaders in Conservation: Developing Leadership Skills as an Early-Career Professional. EPCN received a number of questions in response to the webinar, and speakers Michelle Facini and Molly Gleeson have generously taken the time to answer these questions. This post also provides a bibliography on leadership, including a number of insightful Ted Talks, for those wishing to delve further into this topic. At the end is a list of links to leadership training programs for future reference.
Do the speakers have suggestions for how to balance the roles of colleague, friend, and leader in the workplace? Do they have tips for how conservators can step up to a leadership positions while maintaining other facets of their relationships with others?
Molly Gleeson: For the benefit of all work relationships, making space for personal connection is important. No matter what position you are in, you can demonstrate leadership qualities by speaking up with opinions and ideas, but also by making sure to ask others for their input, and being open to different viewpoints. If you are asked to lead a project and to supervise a peer or friend, I believe that taking a collaborative approach is the best course of action – you will need to take responsibility for the decision-making, planning, etc. but much of the work to get there can be collaborative, and recognition of your colleague(s) when presenting decisions and ideas is just as critical. This acknowledgment will help to empower them and make them feel included, respected, and an important part of your team.
How has your leadership style changed/evolved over the years?
Michelle Facini: My ability to recognize project priorities and maximize my time spent on tasks has become more efficient over time. Having good working relationships with colleagues also helps to streamline expectations and makes collaborations effective. As I become more senior in my organization, I am expected to bring clarity and good solutions to tasks because I understand how the organization works. As a result, it is important for me to actively listen, so I can offer good recommendations and ensure success for everyone involved in a project.
How, would you continue to inspire engagement of all colleagues, interns, volunteers, members etc. if the community or team you lead is growing? This question is aligned with making everyone feel included, and the difficulties in generating an intimate collaboration if member size increases.
Michelle Facini: Good colleagues are ones that you trust and respect. Finding a way to build those relationships with your peers is key, and doing so differs greatly from person to person. Leaders who regularly engage with their workforce and recognize their staff for their accomplishments and commitment are generally the most respected. Emotional intelligence is a skill that should continue to be honed throughout our careers so that our work relationships are rooted in kindness and empathy, while still maintaining a supportive and productive work environment.
What can conservation learn from other fields in which management and leadership skills are more explicitly praised, e.g. Business, public policy? Did you look to leadership role models in different disciplines?
Molly Gleeson: There is so much we can learn from other fields about leadership – in fact, most of the recommended reading and resources come from the business world. We can and should look at global trends in leadership, such as the concept of collaborative leadership, which focuses less on top-down management and more on teamwork, transparency, and networks. But we can also look to the museum field for examples of inspirational leaders, even if these leaders are using leadership styles that we may not gravitate toward ourselves. Check out the Leadership Matters book and blog, and forthcoming book, Women & Museums.
With the changing museum field, do you anticipate any changes to your leadership style?
Molly Gleeson: While it is important to think about our “default” leadership styles, it is just as important, as Sarah emphasized in the webinar, to remember that leadership responds to the situations and positions we find ourselves in. Being aware of how the field is changing, current institutional operations and goals, and our individual roles within an organization, will help us all expand and adapt our leadership styles as we grow as professionals.
How did our panelists develop their leadership skills and what resources/opportunities did they find helpful?
Molly Gleeson: Most of my leadership skills were developed by putting myself in positions to lead – by volunteering to organize a conference session, to teach a workshop, run for a committee position, or to take on a new project or role at work. Many of these situations are uncomfortable at first, but I have learned a lot from them and they only empower me to continue to step up into leadership roles. I am currently taking a leadership course offered through my job, and as a part of this we took the Gallup Strengths Assessment, which identified our top 5 strengths. Anyone can take this online for only $15 (there are more expensive options but our course instructor said that they are not worth it and that Gallup actually prices them higher to discourage people from doing them).
What kind of leadership do we need in the field now? What directions should we, as a field, encourage?
Michelle Facini: The availability of digital products to use for outreach is staggering— as information is instantaneously shared and consumed by vast numbers of folks, the preservation field needs to find its voice. This voice should speak humbly of our past while addressing a future that is diverse and inclusive of many skill sets. Inclusiveness allows our community to extend support to those colleagues who yearn for funding, recognition and opportunities for professional growth. Sharing our knowledge via presentations, publications and teaching elevates our standing as a profession and attracts the jobs and financial support necessary for our continued growth.
Is there a way to ask a conservator to be your mentor in a polite way, or should you let the relationship develop naturally?
Molly Gleeson: Either approach works – there are great mentor-mentee relationships that have grown out of the ECPN mentoring program where people are matched often without knowing each other beforehand – but some of the best relationships may end up developing naturally. Most importantly, mentoring works best when expectations and questions are clearly defined – so before approaching someone sit down and think about what you’d like guidance on, and what you’re hoping to get out of that relationship, and prepare to communicate these goals with your potential mentor. It is also important to be respectful of time, availability, and communication styles. Some people prefer emailing while others work better on the phone, and some people may prefer to meet in person – be open to different types of communication.
Do you have any tips for someone transitioning into a promotion and facing changes in one’s role and leadership responsibilities?
Michelle Facini: Make an appointment with yourself to determine your strengths and weaknesses in your new position. Identify ways you can acquire the necessary skills needed for your new responsibilities. Seek out mentors and peers that can assess your progress and help you find ways to rise to all your new challenges. Make sure you set goals for yourself that are attainable to keep your momentum going, but also in the distance so you always know where you are headed.
This comprehensive bibliography, including both published literature and Ted Talks, was compiled by Courtney Murray for the April 2016 workshop, “Learning to Lead: Training for Heritage Preservation Professionals,” held at the Winterthur Museum. Thank you to Courtney for her willingness to share her work.
The following are addendums to this bibliography:
The Art of Relevance, by Nina Simon
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain
Blog – Leadership Matters: Thoughts on 21st Century Museum Leadership by Anne Ackerson and Joan Baldwin
Opportunities for Formal Leadership Training or Networking:
Applicants for a number of these programs must have previous museum experience or currently hold a leadership position, so they do not apply to emerging conservators; however, you may wish to keep them in mind for the future.
The Getty Leadership Institute’s NextGen Program: Executive Education for the Next Generation of Museum Leaders – designed for mid-level staff with 3-5 years of museum management experience
The Clore Leadership Programme (UK-based, but with International Fellowships available for select countries) – applicants must have worked in the cultural sector for at least five years
The American Alliance of Museums Leadership and Management Network – professional network and repository of articles on leadership and management
Association of Academic Museums and Galleries (AAMG) Leadership Seminar – applications are open to those currently holding leadership positions in academic museums and galleries
Thank you to all of the individuals who submitted questions, and thank you once again to our speakers Sarah Staniforth, Michelle Facini, and Molly Gleeson. We are also grateful to Courtney Murray for the bibliography and Debbie Hess Norris for her input on leadership training. If you have additional suggestions for resources to add, or further questions on this topic, please email