What makes a great museum leader?

During a recent Midwest Museums Connect Meetup, we asked members to help us brainstorm the qualities of a great museum leader. We considered what leadership should and should not look like, often inspired by personal experiences with past supervisors.

In summary, here are the group’s thoughts on the qualities of great museum leaders:

  • They desire to build and earn trust from stakeholders (internal and external) through clear communication and consistent action. Earning trust isn’t easy, and it starts with open, honest, sincere, and transparent communication.

  • They possess qualities that engage and inspire others to support the organization or projects. They’re active in their local communities and networks and make time to develop relationships with their peers.

  • They regularly reflect on their organizations and actions, recognize when they are in over their heads, and seek help. They should also own and learn from their mistakes.

  • They adapt, manage change well, don’t freeze under pressure, and remain flexible.

  • They take action, responding to needs and addressing problems in a timely fashion. They don’t avoid difficult conversations and aren’t afraid to try new things. They are out there advocating for the organization with every audience.

  • They foster a culture of collaboration, not competition, among staff and peers. They build strong teams by counterbalancing strengths and weaknesses, give staff members opportunities to use their talents and offer expertise, and encourage creativity.

  • They support and develop staff. As coaches, mentors, and supervisors, they try to make work fulfilling and reward talent through advancement or other growth opportunities. They give staff the power to fix things, building confidence. They treat staff fairly and equally.

The mind map pictured below visually captures this list of qualities. We encourage anyone in a leadership role or seeking one to print this out, write in anything you feel is missing, post it on your wall, and let it be a reminder of what your staff members and peers may need from you.