Grand Narratives and Small Stories

learning leadership in the cultural sector

by Sue Kay

So many of our ‘grand narratives’ have been called into question since the economic downturn began in 2008 – leadership included.  Its idealised, golden chalice status (particularly at the ‘heroic’ end of the spectrum) and the belief that it is “the answer to a whole array of intractable problems” cannot be asserted so confidently now.  This has been an interesting time in which to focus on leadership development in the cultural sector.

Drawing on all the pieces in ‘Leadership Works,’ and a range of consultative workshops and interviews, Sue Kay concludes the CLP evaluation, highlighting lessons learnt from the experience and delivery of the programme by the team, programme partners and the wider sector, placing it within the broader leadership and leadership development context.

Kay begins the piece by identifying one recurrent factor - sectoral resistance to using the L-words 'leader' and 'leadership'.  She then discusses four ‘appreciative themes’ which emerge with remarkable consistency from the evaluative essays: embracing and delivering diversity; the bespoke and iterative nature of provision; the power of reflection; and the pivotal role of networks. Next, she considers a range of synergies and tensions which evidence healthily critical engagement with CLP by participants and providers.  The writer then moves on to consider, assess and define (with health warnings!) the programme’s outcomes, impact and added value, concluding that CLP has brought the goal of 'improved sector performance' considerably closer.  Finally, she suggests that the ‘small stories’ contained in this volume weave together to offer an alternative way of thinking about cultural leadership and the way it is learned, with attendant advantages for the sector as we move further into the challenges and uncertainties of the 21st century.

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