A change of heart, maybe for good

So, I was going along, almost ready to upload my most recent thoughts, when I acknowledged the nagging feeling that the post was…well, it was bitchy. This should not come as a shock to most of you, and while in the post I admitted to the huge chip on my shoulder that I can not seem to escape, I didn’t feel right putting it all out there. Again.

I had wanted to highlight some of the differences I have experienced between different types of leaders withing the museum field. I went on and on about how most CEOs are so out of touch with what happens in the rest of the museum, and yet they have both the power and the tendency to make huge, sweeping decisions with enormous impact. Sadly, these decisions are often based on ignorance, or worse yet, numbers alone.

So you can imagine where I was headed with that. I’ve had some personal experience and many axes to grind, but that’s neither productive nor professional, so let’s focus on looking ahead rather than looking back, shall we?

Is it because we’re three days away from a Happy New Year? Ehhh, probably not. I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions, mostly because I either don’t keep them, or they’re things that I should have committed to back on July 14th or some other—any other—day. So while it’s nice to think I’m making a fresh new start with my positive, kind-hearted outlook on life, it’s really not that.

Whatever it is, let’s hope it sticks. Let’s hope I can focus my insight and thoughts on making myself and my outlook better. That usually proves much more useful than complaining and lamenting. I am a museum educator. I have to find the balance between being extremely sensitive to the needs of others (be they visitors or colleagues) and being extremely thick-skinned (in order to withstand interactions with visitors and colleagues). The whining, while necessary on occasion, doesn’t do much good beyond one or two teeth-gnashing, hair pulling sessions. Then it’s time to keep calm and carry on.

Here is my attempt at finding the bright points in working in the museum field. For me, it’s a bright point every time I get to go to a museum as a visitor. Being on the inside is a different story. But it helps to remember that I am here to make the visitors’ experiences better, and when I go to a museum as a visitor, I have those educators there to thank for their hard work as well. So go ahead and count my head as I pass through the door, and may I boost your attendance numbers so that they influence programmatic decisions at your institution in a positive way!

I recently had the chance to sit in on a staff meeting of museum interpreters. Their CEO was in attendance, and after all the smaller housekeeping-type details had been covered, he took the floor and proceeded to praise the staff for the work they have been doing. He mentioned people by name and by the precise area in which they worked. He named specific examples of good performance, provided suggestions for improvement and constructive criticisms in a way that was motivational, gentle, and not critical.

How could he do this? He’s the CEO! He’s not supposed to know about these things! And yet, he was so knowledgeable about the programming and the people because he routinely goes through his institution and observes his staff. He tours donors through the galleries so they can see educational programming at work. He knows what his staff does, and he can describe it to someone else in detail that he has learned firsthand by watching it himself.

He finished out this staff meeting by reading two letters of praise. One letter was from someone at a pretty important museum organization, thanking this particular CEO for the tour, and mentioning in detail some of the more meaningful aspects of his tour and visit. You know what that says? It says that these educators and interpreters did such a stellar job that they created a lasting, positive memory for someone who probably visits hundreds (if not thousands) of museums every year.

While my original intent on sharing that story was to emphasize what a good leader does in contrast to what bad leaders do, I’ll just follow this particular museum leader did and focus on what was done right and what things can be done to be even better. You know why? Because from now on, I’m go to try very hard to make it so there’s no crying. There’s no crying in museums.

1 thought on “A change of heart, maybe for good

  1. What you see in that CEO is someone who “manages by walking around”; he gets out of his office and tours his spaces. I tried to do that constantly when I was on my ships, including when I was the CO. The guy I relieved on Eddy Mac did not do that and the ship’s condition reflected that. I knew my crew was finally getting my style when I heard a Petty Officer tell one of the seaman, “Get a wrench and fix that before the Captain sees it and asks about it” When you do that, you often find things before the person in charge of that area and it allows you to ask insightful questions such as “What are we doing about________?” Often finds small problems before they become larger issues. Applies to any business, museum, zoo etc. Keep that in mind when you are in charge! Seek and you shall find–not always what you want to find, but at least you find it!

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