Top Ten Skills for Museum Leaders

Skills

Recently LinkedIn, Fast Company, and a host of others have written about skills aspiring CEOs need to get hired. It occurred to us that this is something the for-profit world does all the time, but the museum world? Not so much. When was the last time you read an article in History News or Museum News about qualities future museum professionals should possess? And with the simmering crisis of the baby boomer bulge at one end of the workforce and numerous graduate programs at the other, no one talks about what qualities work for the field now.

Here is LinkedIn’s list: LinkedIn’s Skill List. No surprise, it’s tech heavy. And while it’s not that those skills won’t benefit a museum world that lives increasingly online we believe what the field needs in its leadership quiver is character traits as much as skills.

That said, what should museums big or small, rural or urban, look for in leaders? Here–in no particular order–is our top ten.

  1. Courage: Leadership anywhere isn’t for the thin-skinned. Leaders need to be willing to choose the path less taken and bring followers along.
  2. Humility: Leaders need to know how to say they’re sorry; how to fail, get up and move on.
  3. A respect and an interest in the power of the Internet, and comfort with social media: Not that all leaders have to be IT geniuses, but any museum leader who thinks Twitter is for politicians or the Kardashians needs to think again.
  4. An understanding that whatever brought you into this field is not what has catapulted you to leadership, and a willingness to acknowledge your origin story but leave that work behind.
  5. That mediocrity isn’t enough. 21st-century leaders have to realize that for organizations to succeed they need to excel. Maybe not every day, but more often than not.
  6. An interest in people, meaning the community your organization serves–since that is why you are blessed with the 501c3 designation; an interest in your board of trustees, your staff, departments, and volunteers. You do history or art or science with them not for them.
  7. A moral code that means you are fair and equitable regardless. Just regardless. You mentor, you advise, you fire if need be. Your organization has a values statement and an employee handbook.
  8. An excitement about the world. You didn’t become a leader solely because of your passion for 18th-century English samplers, early airplanes, or abstract painting. Leadership requires an omnivorous interest in everything from your curator’s daguerrotype exhibition to the best type of roofing shingle, to bear-proof dumpsters. It is all yours to think about, and most importantly, as a leader, you are the glue that guides and connects your organization to your community at a multitude of levels.
  9. A sense of humor. Leaders need to laugh.
  10. A vision and the ability to illustrate that vision so others can understand, whether they are the young gazillionaires or the Rotary Club lunch-goers. And the ability to strategize and make the vision a reality.

If boards of trustees made genuine attempts to hire individuals with even half of these characteristics, organizations might be stronger, and new hires less surprised by the job of leadership.

What’s on your list?

Joan Baldwin

Advertisements

4 Comments on “Top Ten Skills for Museum Leaders”

  1. Evelyn Fidler says:

    Great list! May I also add the ability to think on your feet and the ability to multi task or at least the ability to switch direction at a moments notice. Also it is not a 9 to 5 job, 5 days a week. Expect to do lots of unpaid OT.

  2. lyndakelly61 says:

    Nice post – I especially like #9! I wrote a little piece about museum skills, and to some degree, leadership skills, on my blog here: https://musdigi.wordpress.com/2015/05/25/wanted-a-guerrilla-in-residence-ma2015syd-tbt/

    • Lynda–
      I like your list as well and the links. We all need to be guerrillas most days. And in one of life’s weird synchronicities it feeds into what I’m thinking about writing for next week’s post so thank you.
      J. Baldwin

  3. Kendra says:

    Great thoughts. I’ve always like the idea of using LinkedIn like a professionals “imgur” or Tumblr. It’s not just about selling yourself, but finding out what is out there and learning from it.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s