Making the Most of a Meeting

Washington, DC

This week Anne and I take off for AAM’s Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C. where we will join Marieke Van Damme and Jessica Ferey in presenting a workshop called “What We Talk About When We Don’t Talk About Women.” That takes place Saturday morning at 8:45-10 a.m in room 152 of the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. If you’re attending AAM, please join us for what promises to be a lively discussion about gender equity and the museum field.

In the meantime, we’ve written a lot here recently about career strategies, about mentors, posses and advisors. For those of you going to AAM, particularly if it’s your first time or you haven’t been in a while, it is a perfect opportunity to think about you, not just your organization or area of special interest. These meetings provide a window into the field. They act as giant reunions, gathering folks who went to graduate school together or had first jobs together. But don’t just stick to who you know. Nina Simon has written memorably about this here: Want to Meet People for Real Conversations and here: Hack Your Hellos: The Unofficial Way to Meet. And if you aren’t going to be in Washington, it’s still meeting season, and you will likely attend a local, state or regional meeting between now and the fall, so make the most of your time.

To add to Nina’s posts, here are Leadership Matters five top things to do at a meeting:

  • Download the program and plan your route through the meeting events. Identify speakers, writers or workshop leaders you want to meet. Plan to arrive early or stay a little late so you can talk to them. If you’ve already identified a possible mentor, ask if they are also attending, and whether you can meet.
  • Bring business cards, use your phone, whatever method works to contact people you’d like to speak to later.
  • Get out of the hotel/conference center. Visit museums. It’s what we do.
  • Don’t be shy, and be sure and do one thing that pushes you out of your comfort zone.

Bonus: On the way home, identify one way, big or small, you will make change when you return to work.

See you in the Nation’s Capital tomorrow!

Joan Baldwin & Anne Ackerson

What To Do About Mediocre Leadership

boss with bullhorn

As part of our 100th post celebration we asked readers to tell us what was on their minds. One reader sent us an email that included this question: How do you work for an organization you love, with a mission you believe in, and cope with the horrible struggle of poor management behind the scenes? First, let’s acknowledge up front that there are often times in our lives when we don’t want to or can’t get a new job. If you are the trailing spouse or partner, if you have family ties that will be exacerbated by moving, or if you’ve only just begun a job and discover it isn’t the bowl of cherries you thought it would be, you may find yourself stuck when, in other circumstances, you would apply for a new job immediately.

So…what do you do? You’re doing work you like in a field you adore for a person whose idea of great is your idea of mediocre. Or worse, you work for a person who can’t get out of her own way, and who manages to make things worse not better. First, some coping strategies: These types of leaders can’t be depended on for much except confusion and mismanagement. As a result, don’t be rude, but try to avoid hallway conversations or spontaneous chats. You aren’t going to get the support you need and you will likely leave more confused than when you began. Poor leaders often don’t think strategically. That means you need to do the heavy lifting. Make sure your meetings are scheduled ahead of time. Make lists, and use them to guide conversation. Take notes during the meeting. Once it’s over, email a thank you and follow up with “This is my take-away.” That way, your job/role/project is down in black and white. Should anything go wrong or there’s any kind of misunderstanding, you’ve left the door open for your director to comment.

Second, make sure you have a mentor/advisor. This can be someone internal or better yet someone external. Remember, mentors aren’t therapists; they are there to help you navigate work and career situations. Don’t personalize or demonize your bad leader–that’s for drinks with your friends. Use time with your mentor to sort out your own communication style. Perhaps the way you ask questions is too oblique and you need to be more direct. Perhaps you are waiting for acknowledgement of your excellent work from someone who doesn’t recognize excellence, her own or anyone else’s. Perhaps you need to let go of things that aren’t your responsibility; in other words, play your position.

Once, when I launched into a rant about a co-worker, a very wise director looked at me and said, “People don’t change.” I sputtered to a halt. Of course people could change, and besides it’s for the sake of the organization. Why wouldn’t they want to moderate their behavior? Her answer: most of the time they don’t and they can’t. If you’re going to be good at the non-content part of your job, then you need to be adaptable, someone who can size up staff no matter where they are on the food chain and get along.

Last, here are some suggestions about how to make the external part of working for Mr. or Ms. Mediocre better.

  • Don’t be the servant employee. Be a bit more self-centered. Think about your job as a resume builder. What can the job offer you–training, travel, mentoring–that makes you a better you.
  • If you work in development, communications, HR or any field museums share with other non-profits, are there job opportunities that build your skill set away from the field, but allow you to stay in your community, city, town?
  • Read last week’s post on More Than a Mentor and make sure you have a posse.
  • Consider taking on an outside project as a consultant or a volunteer. Again, be strategic. What will it do for you? Allow you to work with folks you admire? Be a resume builder? Earn some extra money to fund either a vacation (re-charging in these situations is important) or professional development that your institution might not pay for.
  • Look for opportunities and take them. Is it your turn to schmooze trustees through your department? Don’t avoid it because the trustees hired the incompetent leader in the first place. Meet them and sell your own piece of the pie.
  • Finally, as we said last week, always check-in with yourself. Only you can know how sad, angry or tortured a job is making you. If it’s making you sick, step aside. You’re smart, well educated. There are other jobs in other fields. This may be the universe telling you to press pause on the museum field, so listen.

Are you working for the stress-you-out director? How do you cope?

Joan Baldwin


More Than a Mentor: Thinking Strategically About a Museum Career

Before we begin, some good news: Anne and I are doing a workshop with our friends Jessica Ferey and Marieke Van Damme at AAM. It’s called What We Talk About When We Don’t Talk About Women. Now the bad news: It’s at 8:45 a.m., Saturday, May 28. If you’re going to be at AAM, and up at 7:30 AM, (and we hope to see you) are there tunes that pump you up like a great cup of coffee because we’d like to play them before our session?  Email or tweet (#museumwomen) your suggestions for our playlist, then plan to join us on May 28th for a great conversation!


This week we’d like to build on our last post by saying that while mentors–being one, having one–are an important part of museum career planning, they aren’t the whole rodeo. Or to mix metaphors completely, they’re the flour not the entire cake. Besides having a mentor or mentors, you need to be strategic about your career.

Let’s acknowledge from the outset that careers are part of a life, not the whole thing. The rest–partners, husbands, wives, children, parents, friends, lovers, pets–all take energy, devotion and compromise. But within your particular narrative, you still need to be strategic. In addition, let’s acknowledge that museum salaries, particularly for women, women of color, and transgender folk are often ridiculously low. We’ve written about that elsewhere on this blog which you can find here: Museums and the Salary Conundrum or The Salary Agenda. But having acknowledged the demands of family, friends, and the financial strain of salaries that stink, what else should you do?

First, check in, meaning ask yourself if you like going to work. Are you happy? And don’t do it once, make it a habit. Keep a journal, write down your successes and put them in a jar, walk, think, mull things over. Ask yourself how you are. And if you want a fabulous example of personal reflection, read Nina Simon’s current blog: Year Five as a Museum Director. Her things I’m proud of, mistakes I made, and questions on my mind is an excellent template.

Staying in a soul-sucking job just because you earned that master’s degree in museum studies might not be worth it if your commute is punctuated by tears. Do we need to point out that daily crying is not a good thing? But you’re the trailing spouse or partner. Your parents are elderly and you can’t move right now. It took you months to get your apartment, and you can’t, repeat can’t move again. So don’t. Here is where your posse comes in. A posse is a circle of colleagues, folks you like, folks you can go out and have a drink with, but who aren’t necessarily friends. Why? Because they have to be able to tell it to you straight. They will be the people who remind you that you’ve showed up at your favorite watering hole one too many times in a sad mess. They will tell you that you need to turn around and apologize NOW. They will also tell you that you’ve been treated abysmally and that you’re good at what you do.

And, your posse should be able to help you tease apart your skill set. Do you work in a museum department that also exists in other non-profits? Development or communications for example. Is it worth looking elsewhere and building your resume without leaving your parents, partner or really great apartment? Can you reduce your hours, do some consulting and make the same money but have more autonomy? The point is these people will give you advice. You may already have a group like this. If not, invite some colleagues you like and admire, and arrange to meet after work. Last, don’t forget about your boss, department head, team leader. Hopefully she is a person you can talk to. Don’t abuse the privilege, but don’t be shy either.

If you think about everything you’ve read here, it’s clear we are suggesting that you have one or more people who mentor you. They are likely outside your current work environment, and they deal with the big picture–the museum field and your career trajectory. Inside your organization, you should have another individual who knows you and the cast of characters you work with. That person will help with organizational issues and your blind spots. Last, comes your posse. Yes, some of them will become friends, but remember, they have to be able to tell you the truth. And they will offer a network of connections, projects, and ideas. And you’ll do the same back. So be strategic. And if you want to read how business does it, check out these articles: How Leaders Create and Use Networks or Misconceptions About Networking.

Let us know how you network.

Joan Baldwin

Why You Need Mentoring and Mentoring Needs You


When we asked for possible topics as part of our 100th anniversary post, one of our readers suggested  mentoring. Characterizing AAM’s page on mentoring as “sad,” she rightly called us out for mentioning mentoring often enough, but never really explaining it. So here goes.

First, if you care, mentoring is a gerund–meaning a verb form that functions as noun– and usually refers to advice or training offered by the old to the young. Second, we believe in it. And we think for the museum world in particular, mentoring should not be a generational thing. Too many of us think of being mentored as something museum Boomers should be doing for museum Millennials. While that’s a good idea, we would like to suggest that you don’t have to be a certain age to be mentored. Everybody needs one, likely more than one over the course of a career. And before we go any further, here is what mentoring is not: It’s not therapy. If you need a therapist, we hope you find one. And your mentor is not going to get you a job. That’s not a mentor’s job. Of course that may happen organically because of your mentor, but that’s not why you have one. You have a mentor so you can check in, talk, and receive counsel from someone who’s wiser, smarter, and more experienced than you are.

While it can and should be supported by graduate programs, employers, and service organizations, mentoring is an individual thing. You find them. You connect with them. Mentors don’t have to be your friends, and it’s often better if they’re not. They need to be folks, whether in the museum field or not, who can offer clear-headed career advice and a strategic 30,000-foot view of the profession.

And how do you get one? Don’t be shy. And don’t think if your graduate school professor is your mentor for a year or two, that she needs to be your mentor for life. Mentors change, just as you will. If you meet someone at a conference, seminar or workshop who seems smart, imaginative, and approachable, do not hesitate to ask them if mentoring is something they do. If the answer is yes, ask if they would mind if you called for an interview. If that goes well, you may want to set up quarterly calls, email exchanges, Skype, whatever works for you. But mentoring isn’t a once-a-year check in. You need regular contact to build trust in order for your mentor to keep pace with your career narrative.

If you and your potential mentor live in the same area, you may want to meet regularly face-to-face. And speaking of your local area, whether it’s a major city or a rural area, if there is someone you’ve admired from afar, you should feel free to contact them as well. After all, what’s the worst that can happen? They politely say they’re too busy? And we want to underscore that while this is traditionally the old(er) offering advice to the young(er), it doesn’t have to be that way. If there is a young, dynamic leader with a skillset different from your Boomer collection of talents, approach them.

What should museums or heritage organizations or service organizations do about mentoring? They should support it. It’s part of good leadership. In larger organizations it’s possible to offer internal mentoring opportunities. These have the advantage of access, but you may find yourself paired with someone who doesn’t work for you. Again, don’t be shy. If it’s not working, say so. On the other hand, some organizations offer one-to-one leadership training for their department heads that may come with mentoring. Or, if you’re in a less urban area, don’t forget about the Chamber of Commerce. It frequently offers leadership training and may also have opportunities for mentoring. And we support our reader in believing that AAM and AASLH should take a robust stance on mentoring, particularly at their annual meetings where the number of meet and greets is exponential.

We are always advising readers to read outside of the museum world. So here are some great mentoring pieces. If you’re not a Harvard Business Review reader, you should be. Read this piece: Demystifying Mentoring or this one Mentoring in a Hypercompetitive World. If you are a museum curator, the Association of Art Museum Curators, AAMC, has a formal mentoring program. In addition, the Center for Curatorial Leadership developed a Diversity Mentoring Initiative, and don’t forget about Museum Hue. In its role to increase diversity in operations, governance and staffing, it too provides mentoring opportunities. Last, we’d like to point to the UK’s museum organizations.  We recommend these pages: Resources for Museum Mentors and Professional Development and Mentoring. Finally, there are people like Linda Norris who pay it forward by mentoring.

In closing, not everyone prospers in a mentoring situation. So know what you need. In order to work, mentoring means time, and a level of self-awareness so you understand enough about yourself to ask questions that are helpful. Don’t ask for a mentor if you can’t make the time to meet with one. Conversely, you may want to think about your life, if you know you need a mentor, but can’t find the time to talk with someone, perhaps something needs to change.



Happy Anniversary!


Dear Readers,

Believe it or not, this is our 100th post so we want to begin by thanking each and every one of you. From 2013, when we had only 823 views, we have grown. A lot. In just four months of 2016, we reached 25, 712 views. So whoever you are and wherever you are, many thanks. You are part of a community of museum and nonprofit folks from 95 different countries who all share an interest in leadership.

As a way of saying thank you, we will send a copy of Leadership Matters (Alta Mira, 2013) to the four readers who send us the most compelling leadership challenges for future posts by May 15th. We need more than a one-word suggestion so take your time, and describe the questions and issues you would like to read about. You can reply by commenting on this post or to Please include your name and address as well.

Next, we would like to offer the opportunity for a guest post. If you work in the museum or non-profit world and have something to say about leadership, let us know. Please email us at with some background on who you are, what you do, a brief writing sample, and an topic or theme.

We’ll close by saying how important courage is, in leadership, and daily life. It is so easy not to act, not to speak up, not to respond. To be self-protective. But change comes from a multitude of individuals acting differently as easily as it does from one dynamic leader. We work in a wonderful field, and we owe it to our institutions and to each other, to advocate for all our colleagues, to be kind, to mentor, and to, frankly, enjoy work.

Joan Baldwin & Anne Ackerson









10 Things to Think About on Your Way to Work


First, we are looking forward to meeting many of you at AAM in Washington at the end of May. After two years of blogging about the museum workforce all of a sudden we’re no longer alone. A lot of people–including AAM itself–are talking about museum working conditions. In fact, we made Nicole Ivy’s blog which conveniently lists all the sessions connected to museums’ backstage life. If you didn’t see it, you can find it here. Your Guide to Labor 3.0 at the Annual Meeting. Our session, which is titled What We Talk About When We (Don’t) Talk About Women in Museums with Marieke Van Damme and Jessica Ferey, will have some great music, a chance to share some thoughts and make change together. We hope to see you there.

While we are in Washington, Anne and I will also be doing some teaching for AAM’s Getty program. This week I worked on a case study for that presentation. My topic is leadership and self-awareness, something I’ve written and spoken about frequently since we published Leadership Matters, so self-awareness has been on my mind. For too many leaders it’s akin to exercise, something we know is good for us, but hard to focus on. Or worse, it is seen as part of the massive self-help literature found in airport bookstores. It’s probably both those things, but self awareness, for museum leaders is critically important.

And the reason it’s important is that it’s not only about you, it’s about your staff as well. Think of it as an internal check-in. One for you, one for your staff. A self-aware leader is constantly calibrating her behavior to align with the people she’s leading.

On the way to work in the morning do you strategize the day? Do you think about which meetings are up first and your goals for each one? Do you also think about the people you will meet with? Today will you sit down with the museum department you consider least likely to succeed? The ones lacking self-confidence where mediocre work is a good outcome? Have you experimented with strategies to gain trust, improve communication, increase teamwork?

Don’t eye-roll here. Or at least if you’re doing it, be self-aware enough to recognize it. Museums are places of great beauty and big ideas. They are fabulous places to work. People envy those of us lucky enough to care for and interpret the world’s patrimony. But we do that by working with people. And museums are better places when we work well together. So here are 10 things to think about on your way to work:

  1. Check your judgement at the door. Assume everyone is trying to do their best.
  2. Know your strengths and weaknesses. Be ready to delegate when you need to. Do it with grace.
  3. Write down your plans and priorities. Check back often. Did you succeed or do you need to revise.
  4. Develop a group of friends, mentors and colleagues. Anne calls them your “posse.” They are straight shooters. They adore you, but they’ll tell you the truth.
  5. Check in with them. Ask them how they think you come across.
  6. Listen. Really listen. Don’t just wait for a chance to speak.
  7. Know how the chemistry changes when you walk in the room. Plan accordingly.
  8. Make a 360 assessment part of your annual review.
  9. Get out of the office. Your work is important, but you are not curing cancer. It’s spring. Go outside.
  10. Make this your mantra: Act, reflect, refine.

Last, if you haven’t already, take one of the many personality tests. Myers Briggs or the Disc Assessment are popular. Harvard Business Review also has an entrepreneurial aptitude test: Entrepreneurial Aptitude Test. If you think being an entrepreneur is for business–well that’s another post.

And share how you know yourself.

Joan Baldwin


Museum Staff and Meeting Horror Shows


How many of you dread meetings? Is your dread equally balanced between those you run and those you attend? I work in a culture that has long confused the act of leadership with running meetings. This is a bad thing. Leaders don’t get any smarter when you put them in front of a group and ask them to lead in public. A lot of leaders seem to believe that the act of putting people in a room together will engender some chemistry that magically pushes a program forward. Would that it were that easy. Your team won’t learn to like each other, respect each other or feel the happiness of success by attending meetings where nothing happens. Here are ten thoughts for successful meeting leaders and five for those around the table:

  1. Be respectful. Show up on time; if you’re using some form of technology, test it first. Seat people so they can see one another’s faces.
  2. Have an agenda. If you haven’t taken the time to strategize about where this meeting should take your department, team or staff, what does that tell those attending?
  3. Stick to your agenda. Appoint a time keeper if that helps. Yes, it’s wonderful to see staff involved and passionate about a given subject/project, but if a topic is that important, it can likely wait for its own meeting. So be prepared to shut off discussion, and appoint someone to move the topic ahead in another venue.
  4. Ask your colleagues to close laptops and put away phones. Being present is being wholly present.
  5. Begin with a check-in. Ask participants for a 0ne-minute summation of their week. This is one of many bridging activities that clear peoples’ heads for the work ahead. You may have other ways of checking in.
  6. Follow the check-in by confirming assignments from previous meetings are moving forward. This is not the opportunity to call anyone out in public, but simply to acknowledge work on ongoing projects.
  7. Set aside time for the big-topic issues. Let your staff know your goals ahead of time.
  8. Make time for creativity. Every staff needs to know its ideas are valued. Keep track of new ideas. Make sure the good ones are developed. But be wary of becoming obsessed. Not every shiny object is worth picking up, and innovation for its own sake is a dead end.
  9. Take minutes and send out a post-meeting summation of what happened.
  10. End on time. And thank everyone.

If you are a participant:

  1. Be on time. Leave your laptop at your desk and turn your phone off.
  2. Leave your bad day at the door. Give your colleagues your respectful attention.
  3. Help shift the conversation if it starts to drift into the weeds.
  4. Summarize what you don’t understand. By doing that you not only clarify your own thinking, but may help colleagues too reticent to ask themselves. For example: So our assignment is to outline the programming that will accompany the exhibit on ancient manuscripts. And you would like to see us experiment how?
  5. Read the meeting’s email summation and make sure that what you think happened and what you’re responsible for are the same as what your chair, department head or director has written.

Last, whether you’re a participant or a meeting leader, bring some self-awareness to meetings. Reflect on what happened. Acknowledge what was great and what could have gone better. Recalibrate. Go forward.

Joan H. Baldwin


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