Vulnerability and Cultural Leadership
 
Independent Research Report supported by the Clore Leadership Programme, AHRC and Warwick University. 
2018

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To what extent does vulnerability in leadership create the conditions for resilience and collaboration in the cultural sector, particularly at times of uncertainty and change?

 

As the world looks to solutions for political, social, economic and environmental challenges, implicit in conversations and campaigns about change is a need for different kinds of leadership. Leadership that embodies accountability, honesty, trustworthiness, compassion, pragmatism, service over self-interest, collaboration, whole system thinking and ethical courage. So, what is the source of these aspirational leadership qualities? And how could a shift towards this new culture of leadership take shape, particularly in the cultural sector? Indeed, in what ways is it already being practiced, and is vulnerability part of the process?

In many ways, the cultural sector is already a space in which artists and organisations invite the public to engage deeply with some of life’s greatest questions, and most transformational experiences. Art, culture and creativity are often a source of reflection, resistance and (re)imagination in the face of the status quo – they have the potential not only to challenge but to re-shape cultural narratives and initiate new social norms.

 

But systemically, the UK’s cultural sector is facing some big questions about its role and value in society, emphasised by a fragile and uncertain financial, environmental, political and social context, compounded by a rapidly evolving technological landscape. In an environment characterised by a lack of resources and a squeezed balance sheet – particularly for the subsidised sector – there is a risk of favouring talk over action, and turning to more competitive tactics for survival in what is an increasingly challenging marketplace. We face the risk of incubating approaches to leadership borrowed from other industries, many of which embody a culture of scarcity, self-interest, over-work, competitive economics, and disconnect from the social and environmental context we work in. All this in a time where the role of culture, art, creativity and community are fundamental to bringing about the paradigm shift we need to evolve a more sustainable, healthy society. 

In dialogue with the sector, this research unpacks the role of vulnerability - defined as the capacity to embrace "uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure" - in unlocking the integrity, creative openness, courage and deep engagement with the world we need in this period of uncertainty and rapid change. 

 

© 2020 Sholeh Johnston, The Field Consulting