The future of creative leadership – and a 40 ton mechanical elephant

If you’re a regular reader of our blog, you may know that Leaders Lab is currently working with The Legacy List charity and Birkbeck, University of London on the elle coaching programme.

East London is home to Europe’s largest concentration of artists and arts organisations, yet retains some of the highest unemployment and deprivation levels in the country. As part of the legacy of the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, the Legacy List is working to redress this balance and help the next generation of aspirational young people make the most of the opportunities available.

elle is a seven month coaching programme to support a group of 12 talented young women to progress in their careers. Drawn from east London’s cultural organisations including Stratford Circus, Bow Arts and the William Morris Gallery, the elle associates have to date benefitted from over 25 hours of leadership coaching, have participated in a variety of events and have been introduced to some of the cultural sector’s most inspiring leaders.

Last week was the inaugural elle debate, hosted by Kirsty Lang who has presented Front Row on Radio 4 since 2004. The panel was there to debate The Future of Creative Leadership and focused on how a new generation of women could transform the arts and culture sector.

The guests were an eclectic mix of leading directors and producers from galleries, theatre, dance and arts companies; and they were inspirational. They included Dawn Walton who is the Director of Eclipse Theatre Company, the UK’s leading black-led national touring company. Dawn described how she woke up one morning, walked into her job in the City, handed in her notice (had a party) and then sold her flat to fund her directing career.

Helen Marriage is the co-founder (with Nicky Webb) of Artichoke and in 2006 they brought London to a standstill with The Sultan’s Elephant Show. Helen spent 5 years and raised £1.3 million to bring a 40-ton, trunk waving, mechanical elephant operated by 12 puppeteers to central London. It was seen by over a million people and those who saw it will never forget it.

These individuals and the other guests at the symposium demonstrated key leadership communication skills. They were passionate, authentic, funny, generous, self-deprecating and highly focused. At Leaders Lab we spend a lot of our time talking about what it is, as a leader, to be truly accountable. I have rarely seen such unconditional accountability and such a ‘can do’ attitude. If we, at Leaders Lab, can play our part and nurture these leadership qualities in the next generation of cultural leaders, I will be immensely proud.