What should you look for in a guru? As she leaves the Arts Marketing Association, Julie Aldridge reveals who has helped and guided her career – and how.

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Who inspires you? Who drives your thinking forwards? There are so many people who have enriched, challenged and supported me in my career so far, that it’s hard to know where to begin (and apologies for all the great people I’m missing out.).

Mel Larsen, who taught me to believe in myself

When I became a CEO, over a decade ago, I would look at charismatic leaders and feel inadequate. I was an introverted young woman with a lot of creative ideas and a lack of confidence in my ability to get them across to others. I’d walk into a room with potential sponsors or partners and couldn’t understand why they would take me seriously. I knew my stuff, don’t get me wrong, I’d worked hard and was confident in my plans about how to transform the organisation, but how to convince others that that was the case?!

This is when I appointed the amazing Mel Larsen as a coach. My time with her was so valuable. She made me realise that I didn’t need to adopt a stereotypical, autocratic leadership style, I could be powerful in my own way. I continue to hear her voice in my head as I challenge myself to achieve on my own terms.

The AMA board of directors, who became my champions

The board of directors – current and past – were an amazing source of support throughout my time at the Arts Marketing Association (AMA), especially the two chairs I had the honour of working alongside, Jo Taylor and Simon Drysdale. They have both become close friends now that we’re no longer colleagues. I will miss the time I had at board meetings to reflect, to dream about possibilities, and to sense-check my thinking with a bunch of incredibly smart people.

Now that I work for myself I am determined to maintain a similar (two-way) support network and am gathering a group of fellow freelancers, consultants and others to network with, support, and learn from. I have a long list of people I hope to collaborate with shortly and I’m delighted that this already includes Susan Royce, Heather Maitland and Andrew McIntyre.

I would encourage everyone to do this. Who would be on your fantasy board of directors for ‘company you’? Who will support you; who can you have a good rant with when you need to let off steam; who will listen, challenge, inspire, provide a new perspective?

Mark Wright, who positively challenges me

There is someone I regularly turn to when I want to check my own thinking. Someone who I know will tell me the truth. His advice, positive challenge and thought-provoking questions always enable me to see things with a fresh light – thank you Mark!

If you’re looking for a leadership expert or someone to review the interpersonal relationships across your senior management team or trustees, I would highly recommend Mark Wright from People Create.

Alasdair Cant, who inspires a giving spirit

I am endlessly inspired by watching Alasdair Cant facilitate sessions and manage complex, often conflicting opinions within group dynamics. He turns up to every session fully ready to engage and support the group. He shares generously the insights he’s learnt along the way and his gentle, but challenging, interventions have helped unlock something special for many of the groups I’ve had the pleasure of commissioning him to work with.

I have tried to adopt this generosity myself in line managing and developing the AMA team. It is so rewarding to spot someone with potential (especially when they don’t realise it themselves) and help them step up and take on new and bigger challenges. I hope to take this spirit with me in my future role as a consultant and will strive to give and share in the way Alasdair does, to support and enable others.

Alex Osterwalder, who helps me to stay curious

We live and work in a time of rapid change. I believe strongly that to stay relevant and resilient, the cultural sector needs to become more curious about the changing world and its place within it.

Many thanks to Alex Osterwalder from Strategyzer for openly sharing his tried and tested frameworks and tools including the Business Model Canvas and the Value Proposition Canvas, which I’m adapting in my role as a consultant to enable new thinking across the arts.

All my female role models

I made a conscious effort in my time programming conferences to appoint lots of women as trainers and keynote speakers; women who are incredible role models for me and for others across the sector. Diane Ragsdale, Nina Simon, Russell Willis Taylor, Jo Verrent – all are examples of the many women I’ve heard speak at conferences who have inspired me, helped me see new possibilities for the future of the arts and cultural sector, and encouraged me to try new things to reach more people (and a more diverse range of people), more often, with the arts and cultural sector.

Julie Aldridge is a Consultant at Julie Aldridge Consulting Ltd.
E julie@juliealdridge.co.uk
Tw @Julie_Aldridge

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Julie Aldridge