Reading Across the Curriculum

BooksOne of the things that we noticed in interviewing history museum leaders for Leadership Matters was that this group of 21st-century leaders, who lead everything from very large institutions (Colonial Williamsburg), to mid-size organizations (Kentucky Historical Society, Washington Historical Society), to historic homes and sites (the Constitution, Cliveden), reads widely. They read what is written by and for the museum field and across the nonprofit spectrum, as well as in the world of business and leadership. We are certain that more than a few noticed the article in the NonProfit Quarterly December 30. There NPQ’s editor Ruth McCambridge discusses leadership changes Zappos–the home of decision making at the point of transaction–will make in 2014. According to McCambridge Zappos is moving toward a self-governing model with no-titles and no managers. Called holarchy from the Greek word holon, Zappos will spread leadership through 400 circles where employees may have multiple roles.

Holon comes from writer Arthur Koestler who coined it from the Greek word meaning “whole.” According to Wikipedia, Koestler suggests holons are autonomous, self-reliant units that possess a degree of independence and handle contingencies without asking higher authorities for instructions. Can you imagine a history museum or historic site that is not led from the top down? Would a place led by a cross-trained team be more adaptable in rough times and soar in good ones? Tony Hsieh, Zappos CEO, believes it’s the next step for his company that’s frequently been at the forefront of leadership change.

What would happen if museums, particularly history museums, thought like this? Does the history museum world reserve its creativity capital solely for the exhibition/programming side of operations? Isn’t that a tragedy? McCambridge quotes Zappos’ John Bunch, as saying, “One of the core principles is people taking personal accountability for their work. It’s not leaderless. There are certainly people who hold a bigger scope of purpose for the organization than others. What it does do is distribute leadership into each role. Everybody is expected to lead and be an entrepreneur in their own roles, and holacracy empowers them to do so.”   Isn’t this what the history and heritage museum field needs?

Let us know your thoughts.

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