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Farooq Chaudhry Interview

Change is a recurring theme for the CLP Champions interviewed for the Cultural Leadership Programmes' third anniversary.  Change inspires and motivates them, how managing change influences their own leadership styles and how foreseeable changes in the socio-economic landscape will create new leadership challenges for those in the cultural and creative industries

Farooq Chaudhry, Cultural Leadership Programme Champion

Farooq has worked in a variety of dance media including contemporary dance, opera, film and pop videos, pop tour and musical theatre and in 1998 was awarded an Asian Achievement Award for his work.  After completing an MA in Arts Management from City University and a traineeship at dance management agency, Independance, Farooq created his own agency dansoffice.  He set up the Akram Khan Company in August 2000 and continues to work with Akram Khan as his Producer. 
Returning from a four month sabbatical, Farooq talks about what qualities makes a good leader, the role of passion in work, embracing change and the work of the Cultural Leadership Programme.
Why a sabbatical?
From a professional perspective, I did reflect, think and took the time for me to recover.   One of the dangers of working very hard is that you can fall back on habits.  Now, growth depends on breaking habits, breaking the rules of how you do things and discovering new things.  That growth can only happen if you have the energy to do it.  If you become exhausted you repeat habits.  The sabbatical was to step away from habits and return with the energy to do things differently. 
What qualities do you require to lead effectively, particularly in the cultural and creative industries?
This is a million dollar question and it comes round again and again.  It isn't so clear cut.  I get inspired by seeing others leading well and I don't just mean people in the creative industry.  I see leaders like Kevin Spacey, Alistair Spalding and Nick Hythe, but I also see Arsene Wenger at Arsenal Football Club or Alan Sugar.  You look at these people and what they are doing is passionately serving something they profoundly believe in.  Driving forward into the unknown a lot of the time and they are managing the expectations, which people are prepared to follow. 
In addition, you have qualities; integrity, honesty, intuition and a deep sense of commitment to what you believe in.  People have to trust leaders as they are given an awful lot of power and responsibility.  A leader needs to be able to deal with the trust or the power that people bestow upon them and use that with the maximum effect, with a maximum amount of integrity. 
Also, leaders have to be decisive.  Being decisive, being brave and being able to stand by your decisions, even if you made a mistake and admit you make a mistake.  The more decisive you are, the less hung up you are about making mistakes.  I make mistakes all the time.  It's okay.  I try not to.  I don't deliberately aim for it, but I get it wrong.
There's another thing about leadership which is that there are different styles. I have an instinct for enterprise.  Enterprise leadership is a style of leadership.  What it comes down to is the personality, ultimately the leadership culture of an organisation, I believe, becomes a reflection of the people who run it.  The quality of the leadership in an organisation is a reflection of the personalities who lead it.
Leadership is fundamentally about those qualities and then there are the skills and abilities.  You need to be a good communicator, you need to be articulate. You need to have an understanding of the interface between business and money in what you do and be able to manage that extremely well.  Everything fundamentally is governed by money whether you are the President of the USA or you are Arsene Wenger or the Akram Khan & Company.
Is leadership nature or nurture?
It's a combination of both and also you can throw luck and opportunity into the mix.  You can look at a lot of people who could have been better leaders if their timing had been slightly better, if they had the right people around them.  From my experience, I have been relatively lucky as I have bumped into the right people at the right time, plus I have rejected the wrong people at the right time. 
This is where the Cultural Leadership Programme is great, because it brings attention to the notion of leadership and allows people ask the question, 'Could I be a leader?', 'Do I have the potential?'  The spotlight on the question of leadership is fundamentality important. The idea of 'leadership' was missing before.  People in the sector were 'leading' without knowing they were leaders and there was little status attached, especially in the small scale independent sectors of cultural and creative industries - they are the 'one man bands' with people doing everything and struggling to juggle. 
I didn't know I was leader until this programme came up.  I never considered myself to be a leader.  I just considered myself as someone who had a dream, an ambition.
Nature or Nurture?  I always think people have got potential.  I like to think that there are people who have got an amazing potential to be leaders, who have naturally got the right gifts, but as yet haven't had the opportunities to unleash those talents or to unearth them or to share them.  And there are a lot of people out there who shouldn't be leaders. So it's a mix.
Have you undertaken any leadership development?  If you had, what worked for you?
I really didn't to be honest.  I was one of those old skool cats who learnt on job.  I did actually start as an apprentice in a dance management organisation, called Independance.  I had four senior managers and I was working underneath them.  One of them was my mentor so there was a kind of sense of professional development. 
However, I resisted a lot of the time because I have been a dancer for 20 years and I wanted to fly.  I felt I could take what I was doing as a manager or producer and take it further and create something larger.
I felt my way around.  I'm a very instinctive person so I met lots and lots of people and became inspired by some and some I did not.  I travelled really widely and tried to take a broader cultural perspective on what is possible, which included different styles of leadership from different cultures.  It was a fascinating way to learn.  We are in a globalised era and we cannot ignore that people work differently.  Their aims are the same but the approach styles are different.
Do you have a philosophy about the way that you lead?
Passion is important.  I think passion and organisation is really important.  For me it has to start with love.  Leadership, running things, has to start with the love for the thing you have decided to serve or follow.
I like people to be able to marry their abilities with their qualities and not separate them.  Not say, 'I go to work, me, whoever I am, stays at home until I get back in the evening.  Me, the professional trained person turns up at work'.  The best leaders are people who can combine the two and you feel that they are able to express themselves through what they are doing.  They are not just functioning.
Has your involvement with Cultural Leadership Programme changed or enhanced your view of leadership or have you learnt something new and unexpected?
I met some interesting people from Cultural Leadership Programme, some people I really admire.  Being project champion with Chris Smith was really good.  Listening to Chris helped to break down some preconceptions about people from other sectors.  It is nice to feel that you're closer to people than you think.  Sectors share and you share.  Hilary is always inspiration.  With Chris and Nicola, all the other people from the other sectors meeting around the table and you realise we are all dealing with the same challenges.
Are there other areas of 'leadership' in the cultural and creative sector that needs to be addressed?
I think the creative and cultural sector doesn't focus on the bottom line and that's something we could look at.  I would like to see the Cultural Leadership Programme like an interface between the cultural sector and the business sector. Facilitating learning on the different ways they operate, how they learn that discipline and focus as we would benefit from that.  We are in a very highly competitive industry and just like the commercial sector we have products and are vying for peoples' cultural interest.  Peoples' cultural menu and their lives have changed beyond recognition in the last ten years so we're really fighting with each other, as they are, ultimately, our consumers.  If they don't come to what we do, we're dead in the water no matter how good we believe we are.  It requires a way of thinking that demands us to be creative and to be focused on understanding the market.

Do you think there are opportunities within a recession for creative organisations?
Yes.  There is always potential in any kind of situation, be it a crisis or recession, to be dug out. But, it means having to look at things and adjusting.  You can't just stay still, panic and get desperate.
Times are tough but people must not panic, they must stay confident and clear.  Keep the organisation's aims, the fundamentals that you are holding on to on the table and be prepared to twist things around a bit.  Actually, you need to just get back up there more and start building up the networks and friendships as everyone is a little bit fragile.
What leadership advice would you give an emerging leader in the cultural and creative industries?
There is only one constant in our lives and that is change.  One thing about being a leader is being able to be enthusiastic and embrace change and not be fearful of change as change is everything.  Change is opportunity, change is transformation, change is dreams coming true, and change is becoming better than you are.
When people talk about change they are looking too much for stability.  Now again, it's another kind of paradox with the stability challenge, consistency challenge but actually they can co-exist.  Stability can serve change, consistency can serve change, its not that they cannot. 
You can be stable about the way you manage change.  They must not be seen as ends to themselves they are just a means to an end and the end is change.   In a creative and cultural setting one of the most striking things about it is that you are managing change.  You're re-interpreting the world constantly; the way people live in it, see it, question it and experience it.  It is changing all the time.  The good thing is that change is always on the table so it is really important how you manage it.  Think really deeply about who you are, what you stand for, what your organisation is and what is it that you are serving?
You seem quite attached to change?
Growth is important to me because growth leads change, change means excitement, and change means something to look forward to.  I think there are three things in life that are really important for us; someone to love, something to do and something to look forward to.  I think if you have those things to look forward to, it fires you on and it fires the people in your organisation.  If it's a very defensive, protectionist organisation the energy gets sapped out and it's a bit jaded.
I like change.  It really thrills me even though I don't know what it will be like in two years, three years, five or ten years time.  It will be different.  That is something to look forward to.
There has been a lot of change for the Cultural Leadership Programme since its launch 3 years ago. What do you feel has been the programme's key achievements?
That's difficult because it's so widespread in its activities. I do feel that it raised the concept of leaderships, which is great.  People talk about leadership in the sector. 
Previously, it has been about 'the buildings' and then it was 'the artists' and now it's about 'the leadership'.  Thank goodness they got round to leadership, as the buildings have fundamentally changed the way we work and the way the artists are supported has fundamentally changed the way they work.  We have yet to see the full benefits of this leaders work, but I do believe with the other two elements in place that the leadership work is sitting on a strong foundation.  In 5 to 10 years we'll see where this [Cultural Leadership Programme] takes us.  We may see the stars in the future that will stand up and go, 'Wow!'