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If You’re Happy Cause Your Boss Knows It Clap Your Hands

Here is a little topic of discussion for you– Does having a boss that is an arts industry insider make for a happier work environment than working for one that comes from outside the arts?

In Harvard Business Review, researchers found that having an insider for a boss made for a happier environment.

Using these three measures of supervisor competence, we found that employees are far happier when they are led by people with deep expertise in the core activity of the business. This suggests that received wisdom about what makes a good boss may need some rethinking. It’s not uncommon to hear people assert that it’s a bad idea to promote an engineer to lead other engineers, or an editor to lead other editors. A good manager doesn’t need technical expertise, this argument goes, but rather, a mix of qualities like charisma, organizational skills, and emotional intelligence. Those qualities do matter, but what our research suggests is that the oft-overlooked quality of having technical expertise also matters enormously.


When we look closely at the data, a striking pattern emerges. The benefit of having a highly competent boss is easily the largest positive influence on a typical worker’s level of job satisfaction. Even we were surprised by the size of the measured effect. For instance, among American workers, having a technically competent boss is considerably more important for employee job satisfaction than their salary (even when pay is really high).


Moreover, we saw that when employees stayed in the same job but got a new boss, if the new boss was technically competent, the employees’ job satisfaction subsequently rose.

I am sure we can all think of personal experiences that reinforce or disprove these findings.

Something I was wondering as I read this article was what category to use when define deep expertise for a non-profit arts executive. Is it “arts” or “non-profit”? I have noticed that if they didn’t come up through the ranks in an arts field, non-profit arts executive directors and presidents often seem to come from the healthcare field.

Since the job description of non-profit CEOs seems to focus so much on fund raising these days, the non-profit category is probably the defining characteristic for the financial health of the organization, but what impact, if any, does that have on work satisfaction in the organization? (Obviously, I mean when the leader comes from any non-arts non-profit. I am not picking on healthcare.)

We often hear rumblings about the arts being too insular and needing outside perspectives. Is it really the case that arts people don’t have the capacity to innovate in their approach or is it the case of received wisdom akin to engineers not leading other engineers?


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This Is What You Said, This Is How We Are Fixing It

If you haven’t seen the first iteration of ArtsHacker’s Most Creative People In Arts Administration, hop over there now and check it out.

Or actually, wait until you read the rest of my post, then go over there…

If there was one thing I learned as a member of the review panel, it was that there are a lot of unrecognized arts administrators doing great work out there. This year Juan José Escalante, Executive Director of José Limón Dance Festival and Aubrey Bergauer, Executive Director of California Symphony both deservedly tied for top honors.

One thing that impressed me about Bergauer’s nomination were support documents that included the symphony’s blog. To be certain, there are only a few entries on the blog, but the one I appreciated the most discussed the results of discussion sessions they conducted with Millennials and Gen Xers.

The post reviews all the issues the discussion participants raised and then lists what the symphony has done to address these issues. This is important because one of the key rules of surveying is don’t ask for a feedback on an situation you don’t intend to take action on. Not only did they take action, but they used the blog to communicate what that action is within the confines of their operating environment. (i.e. They don’t control the ticketing system of the venues at which they perform.)

The blog post is a treasure trove of great feedback for any arts organization since there is very little that is specific to the California Symphony. The things discussion attendees wanted to know but weren’t finding easy to access included things like: why is this music a big deal?, how long will it run?, what will the experience be like?, what are each of the instruments called?

The music selected for the program mattered least.

There were a lot of quotable sections of the blog. Here are some of my most favorite favorites.

Read the Manual:

Then, they get to step 4): make a decision on why they want to attend a specific concert, and our response is essentially “WHY CAN’T YOU FIGURE OUT WHY RACHMANINOFF’S SECOND SYMPHONY IS A BIG DEAL? LOOK IT UP IF YOU WANT TO KNOW!” (marketing failboat — why do we set up our sites this way, and then wonder why the sales funnel is getting choked up at the add-to-cart step?).

Everyone Else Is In The Know:

One participant asked if there is “a separate webpage for younger people we could make?” What was so interesting about that comment is that this person assumed that they were in the minority as far as understanding answers to these types of questions. The assumption was that other, older people are much more familiar with the symphony when in reality, there is no magical age at which one suddenly becomes an aficionado.

Comment from a discussion participant:

“It was so impressive — I didn’t expect it to feel THAT different than Spotify.”

On Pricing:

Even the discussion group brought up (on their own, without any prompting) the idea that they’ll all shell out big bucks for Taylor Swift. So price alone is never an isolated issue; it’s all about the perceived value one is receiving in exchange for that price. What we did find interesting was the comment of, “I’m more likely to go to three $25 performances than I am one $75 or $100 performance.” Many others chimed in with agreement to that statement.

Okay, now you can go over to the Arts Hacker site. Thanks for reading.

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Don’t Go To Abilene Unless YOU Really Want To

One of the more famous illustrations of the perils of group behavior is the Abilene Paradox. I wrote about the issue some years back but in short, its a story management expert Jerry Harvey told about how he and his in-laws all took a trip to Abilene that none of them wanted to take because none of them wanted to speak their mind.

As I wrote:

There is an article by Harvey that illustrates how the paradox can manifest itself in various situations and also contains suggestions on how to avoid taking a trip to Abilene. In what might appear to be the most extreme case, he suggests that the instigator of the misguided trip may need to step forward and declare their misgivings about their own project in order to break the fear which keeps the cycle of reinforcement intact.

“… we frequently fail to take action in an organizational setting because we fear that the actions we take may result in our separation from others, or, in the language of Mr. Porter, we are afraid of being tabbed as “disloyal” or are afraid of being ostracized as “non-team players.”

This is why I felt arts organizations might be especially vulnerable to trips to Abilene. Members aren’t simply employees/volunteers/board members but assumed to be true believers in the cause. There could be a fear, real or imagined that disagreement with the group equates to lack of commitment to the greater ideals rather than merely disloyalty to the company.

If you see yourself or your organization as particularly susceptible to making metaphoric trips to Abliene, you may want to resolve to resist doing so in the new year.

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Coach or Mentor?

Looking back through my archives, I rediscovered a piece I wrote on the concept that most mentoring programs are really coaching programs.  The piece by Rebecca Ryan I link to is no longer available, even on her updated site but the longer article on the difference between mentoring and coaching still is active.

From that post:

Coaching essentially consists of helping someone fulfill their function for the company whereas mentoring is more of a customize relationship aimed at growing the person.

In Ryan’s view, most mentoring programs are essentially buddy programs. Whereas:

“True Mentoring occurs when an elder’s intention is to entrust another with the welfare of her or his estate (or something similarly significant.) In business, this means that one generation of leaders takes the next generation under its wing and over time, teaches them everything they know….So you see, Mentoring is intended to occur alongside a transfer of responsibility. Most Mentoring programs have no such intention.”

The problem she feels lies in the fact that companies try to use mentoring to fill in gaps but don’t commit to designing and implementing the program resulting in low retention and burn out.

So as we move into the new year, if you are mentoring someone or are considering doing so, think about what results are are intending to achieve.

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