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Resilient leadership is vital in music education hubs, where a culture of shared purpose is at the heart of everything they do. Sue Hoyle and Mark Robinson explain what this involves.

Photo of children in audience playing air guitar

At a recent conference in the north of England, the theme of resilience was addressed in the context of both music education hubs and partnerships, and the individual leaders within them.

The frameworks we shared for thinking about resilience were based on years of working with organisations and leaders. Mark’s framework focused on the adaptive resilience of organisations, while Sue’s focused on individuals. We found that there were clear similarities and connections between the two, and good examples of resilient leadership among the hubs.

Organisational resilience

graphic showing culture of shared purpose


At the heart of Mark’s framework for the eight characteristics of adaptive resilience is a culture of shared purpose and values rooted in a strong organisational memory. Without this it’s hard to use the other elements well.

Leaders step forward to work with others … in knowledge of themselves, to adapt and have new ideas about how best to achieve the core purpose

Predictable financial resources should come from a range of people and partners, with some reserves being developed over time and some flexibility in budgets. (Being at full stretch financially is a vulnerable way to be.)

Strong networks, internally and externally, mean more ideas and more people to call on when you need help. Often others value the intellectual, human and physical assets you can deploy, share and – when appropriate – charge for. Many organisations faced with a crisis begin with looking at how their assets can be used differently: using staff to train others, renting out spaces, providing content for events, for instance.

If an organisation has the ability and habit of changing how it works, it can be said to have adaptive capacity. It will regularly try new things and new ways of working, review them thoroughly and incorporate the best of new thinking. Shifting budgets and staff time around can be tough, but it makes change possible.

All this is helped by good leadership, management and governance – a culture that is never satisfied with the status quo. This leadership should also instil a regular scanning of the horizon to use situation awareness of audience trends or funding environments, for example.

It should also identify key vulnerabilities and plan to manage them. What are the new educational reforms likely to hit schools in the next few years? What’s happening to local demographics? If key funders or commissioners are likely to change policy, for instance, have new ideas ready.

This resonated with the hubs, especially due to their intrinsically networked nature and the focus on core purpose.

Individual resilience

Sue’s framework for resilience and creativity in leadership set out four inter-related quadrants: know yourself, build relationships, be responsible and innovate.

graphic about creativity and resilience
Sue stressed that values are at the heart of effective leadership – values that are evident in the behaviour, actions and decisions of leaders. Authentic, purposeful leaders build strong peer networks and work readily in collaboration with others. In the context of unprecedented change, leaders need what Mark has described as ‘adaptive capacity’ – flexibility, openness to new ideas and the ability to make decisions even when you are uncertain.

Leaders of music education hubs have to be ‘multilingual’ and speak the languages of a range of different disciplines, not only of education and music but also of areas such as health and social justice. They have to operate inter-culturally, bringing together the skills, knowledge, experience and intelligence of different groups of people, as generous and responsible leaders who recognise and advocate the role that culture can play in building a better society. They are innovators and creative change-makers, finding new solutions to new challenges.

Stepping forward

An important message Mark took from Sue’s presentation was the leader’s courage and skill being used to step forward and take responsibility in a situation or an organisation. This distinguishes the leader from their hard-working and effective ‘followers’.

In the context of music education hubs, you could argue that the responsibility often applies to the assets and capacities Mark has in his ‘octave’ of characteristics: the assets of a locality and a network, the identity of those involved in a particular place, the relationships and partnerships that underpin the financial model.

Crucially, leaders step forward to work with others, across the cultural sector and beyond, in knowledge of themselves, to adapt and have new ideas about how best to achieve the core purpose. The core purpose of the hubs shone through the day: giving young people ways to express themselves musically, with all the complementary benefits of music education.

Shared actions

Hub leaders discussed ways in which they could amplify that commitment by working together. They identified actions they could take to support resilient creative leadership, including developing a culture of shared purpose and values, building and using networks, and strengthening the leadership of the hubs and of the whole network. Examples included:

  • Campaigning for statutory music provision in schools.
  • Working collectively to collate data on impact and promote the role of hubs.
  • Sharing models for diversifying income streams.
  • Placing a greater focus on succession planning and developing strategies to support aspiring leaders.
  • Bringing together the chairs of hubs for networking opportunities.
  • Peer-to-peer learning and tailored leadership programmes.
  • Broadening conversations by bringing together advisory boards, other cultural organisations and Bridge organisations.

The hubs agreed they should drive the agenda for change, taking responsibility for strengthening the network and building alliances with others, including funders, local government and schools, to better support music learning by children and young people. These alliances must, though, remain true to values and purpose. As one person put it: “Diversify but don’t dilute”.

Sue Hoyle is Director of the Clore Leadership Programme and Mark Robinson is Founder and Director of Consultancy Thinking Practice.

This article is based on presentations at the Northern Music Education Hubs Conference, hosted by three Northern Bridge organisations - Curious Minds, IVE and Culture Bridge North East.

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Photo of Sue Hoyle
Mark Robinson