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An ArtsProfessional feature in partnership with people make it work banner

When leaders make personal change, organisational changes inevitably follow, says Richard Watts.

A painting of a tree bending in the wind

We all know that it’s not the waving trees that make the wind blow. But distinguishing effects and causes within organisations is not always so straightforward.

Our job isn’t just to shout for the wind to blow less or for the tree to stand straight

When leading change it’s important to understand the factors that are shaping your reality, and then to work out how you can influence these. Just as it’s not the waving trees that make the wind blow, what if it’s not the disenchanted staff that create a culture of apathy? What if it’s not poor processes that reduce our focus on quality? What if it’s not underfunding that reduces the creative ambition of our work?

In my role at people make it work, I help organisations change and develop. Often this means helping them shift focus from the waving tree to the prevailing wind. From the effect – such as insufficient income – to a cause such as insufficient relevance for audiences and funders. Or from insufficient time to think and devise new approaches, to the root cause: the habitual prioritisation of ‘urgent’ tasks over important analysis.

Re-orienting organisations

Our role as leaders is often to re-orientate our organisations towards the causes of success, moving people’s attention away from the immediate experience to create strategy that changes the conditions and secures a sustainable future.

Alongside distinguishing cause from effect, we also need to identify what we can do to make a difference – to find our agency. Our job isn’t just to shout for the wind to blow less or for the tree to stand straight, but to understand how we personally influence the conditions affecting our organisations.

Perhaps it’s time we moved from metaphor to reality. Our job as change leaders isn’t to see what other people should be doing differently and loudly demand that. Rather it is to understand the ways our own leadership can make change inevitable. And then do that. Even when it’s hard (especially when it’s hard). Change leadership is making personal change so that organisational changes inevitably follow. We are the wind.

A collective endeavour

Change leadership isn’t a solitary affair – it’s often a collective endeavour. Our organisations are interconnected; our audiences make up our communities; and the conditions needed for one of us to thrive will often boost us all.

So this New Year, let’s make these resolutions:

  • I will distinguish between cause and effect and focus on causes (wind not tree).
  • I will be a positive influence that makes change inevitable (a beneficial breeze).    
  • I will find agency, identifying my own change in leadership before calling for change from others (be the change).
  • I will connect with fellow leaders to make these commitments together, creating change in our ecology (create a cohort).

Our Change Creation programmes are two-year long action orientated development programmes for leaders in arts and cultural organisations where we work together to lead and embed change. Our last programme kicked off in November 2019, and the next one will start in June. Together we’re learning what true change leadership means while transforming our organisations and building supportive communities of leadership nationwide.

Richard Watts is Director of people make it work.

This article, sponsored and contributed by people make it work, is part of a series sharing insights and learning to help organisations facing change challenges to grow and develop.

Change Creation is a two year programme designed and delivered by people make it work, for arts and cultural leaders who want to lead and realise tangible changes that will have a lasting impact on people, organisations, audiences and participants. We’re currently working with these amazing organisations:

Arts & Heritage
British Council
Bristol Culture
Camden Arts
Cardboard Citizens
Colston Hall
Dance Woking
East London Dance
Film Hub North
Film Hub Scotland
Greater London Authority
Halton Libraries
Henry Moore Institute
In Between Time
Deborah Smith Projects
Invisible Dust
Little Angel Theatre
Mid Wales Opera
Ensemble Cymru
Museums Sheffield
National Motor Museums Trust
National Trust
New Contemporaries
Northern Stage
Oriel Myrddin Gallery
Polka Theatre
Sense Arts
Severn Arts
Sheffield Theatres
The Poetry Archive
Theatr Iolo
Theatre Royal Plymouth
This New Ground
Tribe Arts
We the Curious
Wyldwood Arts

Does your organisation need to change? Change faster, more and with fewer resources than ever before? Our next programme starts in June this year and applications are now open for organisations with compelling change plans, so you get all the support you need to deliver them. If you and your leaders would benefit from direct support, tools, resources, change leadership training, masterclasses, workshops and action learning please get in touch. Contact hello@changecreation.org

Link to Author(s): 
Richard Watts