(Note: here is my second cross-post from this week’s ARTSBlog Emerging Leader Salon. The last time I guest-blogged for Americans for the Arts, my inaugural foray into the bullet-point manifesto format became the most-viewed post on Createquity ever. Anyway, the salon is now over, but you should still check out all of the great posts!)

A boss is to an emerging leader as a funder is to a grantee.

  • Think about this: there is an inherently unequal power relationship between a boss and an employee.
    • A boss gets paid more.
    • A boss has greater autonomy to make decisions about how she does her job.
    • A boss has greater autonomy to decide what her job even is.
    • A boss can make decisions that affect not just her own work, but everyone else’s work too.
    • A boss is identified with her organization and therefore has greater visibility.
      • Meaning better connections and more opportunities to lead.
    • And most importantly…
      • The employee is to no small degree dependent on the boss for her ability to pay the bills.
  • But bosses know, and employees know, that a reliable emerging leader can be really valuable to an organization.
    • She performs mission-critical tasks that the boss doesn’t have time to do and handles routine communications that free up the boss to focus on the important contacts.
    • When people talk about “capacity-building” in organizations? Well, she’s the capacity!
    • And if she leaves, the boss will find herself in the position of having to find someone who can do that job just as well or better in a short period of time.
      • It’s a double-whammy: the boss doesn’t have time either for the job search or to cover for her ex-employee in the latter’s absence.
    • In short, despite having less power, the marginal impact of that employee on the success of the organization is huge.
  • Where have we heard this before? Let’s see:
    • A funder has the money; a grant applicant doesn’t. (And the funder’s employees usually get paid more.)
    • A funder, being accountable only to its board, often has near-total autonomy to make decisions about how it accomplishes its program objectives.
    • For the same reasons, a funder has greater autonomy to decide what its program objectives even are.
    • A funder can and does make decisions about its programs and strategies that affect not just its own work, but everyone else’s work too.
    • A funder is identified with the arts field and therefore has greater visibility and more meaningful opportunities to demonstrate leadership in the sector.
    • And most importantly: a grantee is to no small degree dependent on the funder for its ability to pay the bills.
  • But similarly, a “gold star” grantee is extremely valuable to a funder.
    • After all, funders are 501(c)(3) organizations too – they have a mission just like everyone else.
      • And they cannot accomplish that mission without their grantees.
    • The funder’s role is basically to outsource that mission to a portfolio of nonprofit organizations.
    • The funder should care about the grantee’s success or failure, because it is the funder’s success or failure as well.
  • The emerging leader “movement,” such as it is, is about investment in the future leaders of our sector.
    • We call for inclusion in discussions about the future of the organization and the future of the sector.
    • We call for skill development so that employees are not defined solely by their jobs.
    • We call for networking opportunities so that our own relationships can sustain the field when it is time for us to lead.
  • Why do we do this? It’s because our success is the field’s success. And often times, it’s also our bosses’ success.
  • The balance of power may be unequal on paper. But in the case of both bosses/emerging leaders and funders/grantees, the best outcomes are to be achieved by treating it as equal in practice – and recognizing the relationship for what it truly is: a partnership toward a common future.