Mark Robinson blogs about his leadership report for ArtWorks Alliance Partner Creative People and Places.


As trailed at the back end of last year in an Arts Professional articleCreative People and Places have just published Multiplying Leadership in Creative Communitiesmy report on leadership approaches across the CPP network. You can find it here.

As distinctive and significant as I think CPP has become, at its best, I was drawn to reflect on the broader movement or tide to which it has contributed. As I say in the report, CPP is part of a progressive movement you can see all over the UK, of people developing and modelling leadership in different ways than archaic heroic, individual-centred models. I also draw some connections back to ideas from earlier programmes including Mission Models Money and Arts Council England’s Cultural Leadership Programme. (The wide-ranging contributions to the Cultural Leadership Reader edited by Sue Kay and Katie Venner, with Susanne Burns and Mary Schwarz in 2010 are still highly relevant, for instance.)

I hope the report is useful in describing CPP leadership approaches, including the emphasis on developing community-led approaches including decision-making through building trust and learning from ‘failure’. I also hope it serves as a provocation to the network and others.

My sense is the cultural sector needs, and is developing, new forms of leadership, despite the pressure of precedence, and that these need to take many different sorts and styles. The Multiplying Leadership framework is not a job description or person specification, nor a just-follow-the-instructions-and-success-awaits ‘how-to’. Although leadership is a process not a programme, as Peter Block – whose work on stewardship and community has been an inspiration for much of my thinking – has written, it feels more appropriate to describe this as a framework for practice. And it does take practice, as those involved have found.

Writing about leadership without over-simplifying or over-complicating has felt, to me, like a wicked problem. It can easily sound as if leadership is one thing, rather than multiple. Even the collaborative leader can be made to sound heroic. I try to avoid that through my keyword: multiplying. This means diversifying not copying. The three key elements of connecting, collaborating and multiplying leadership can be done in many ways, using multiple and diverse combinations of skills, preferences and approaches. In the report I describe a broad set of potential elements – some vocabulary I hope can be used, adapted, remixed and built upon, or indeed over if appropriate. (There are things I wish I had kept in that set rather than cutting or replacing. Small prize available to the first person to email with the one I most regret cutting.)

There are also coaching-style questions relating to each element for those who disagree with the idea that ‘nothing is as practical as a good theory’. These are available separately in downloadable pdf format to make cards with. As with all my work, where partners agree, it is made available via the Creative Commons framework so it can be freely adapted by others.

If the number, range and diversity of people in leadership is to increase, an argument to which CPP practice has added its voice, leadership will have to be more multiple and various, transforming a cultural sector still dominated by white men in positions of formal authority. (See recent Stage reports around theatre if you doubt the glacial pace of change.) The skills and traits used will also multiply and applications differ. To that end, parts of the report are more a set of ingredients with thoughts on what works together than menus and recipes to be followed step by step. I’m looking forward to seeing what people make of it.

Mark Robinson

Thinking Practice