LEADERSHIP - The change agent

MRL uses the World Bank's description of the leader as a change agent as a central focus:

Leadership is not a tool to move an organisation from one (steady) state to another; it is inherently about change. Leaders play a key role, not only as visionaries and models of integrity in their individual capacity, but also institutionally, in defining, energising and seeing through change.

decision making - the key dimension

To define, energise and see through change, the leader must make decisions in the service of their organisation; whatever else the leader does during his or her time in the 'hot seat', the decisions they take will define their leadership term, for good or ill. In many ways, the organisation they lead and eventually leave behind, is a record of innumerable moments of choice and their consequences. MRL therefore focuses on decisions, moments of truth which act as a powerful leadership diagnostic in the cultural sector, political and business. In a number of case studies and workshops exercises we analyse why decisions were taken, what assets or resources the leader bought to bear and what the outcomes were. We ask:

  • Did the leader communicate in an effective and inspiring way?

    • Were the messages clear, consistent, persuasive and succinct?

  • Did he or she empower and enable their teams?

    • Were they a collaborator or an isolationist?

  • Was the strategy clear, which informed the decision?

    • Was it purely tactical or did it fit into the organisation’s wider purpose?

  • If the case for the change was compelling was it embraced with courage?


As someone thinking about their own leadership ambitions and capabilities, we won’t use this framework to test you, however we will invite you to reflect on your own decision-making and that of others in the political, business and arts sectors. Each workshop, retreat and masterclass is a multi-levelled learning event designed to help you grow your decision making capacity, to build your reserves.

We think about leadership as central to your life balance; we prefer this to the more common work/life balance since we assume you’re alive when you’re at work. Over time this life balance will change and MRL is designed to help you understand and work with this, building resilience.

A Framework

We use a number structures or frameworks to consider leadership over the MRL year. Here we offer one capability check list we have found useful for the successful leader.


The resilient and resourceful leader must develop an ‘asset bank’, a capacity which is invested in during goods times and drawn on when things get difficult. Capacity is the possession, development and deployment of assets in the pursuit of an organisational or personal purpose. The Programme defines assets in three linked groups; personal, organisational and relational. Leaders need strong personal assets; good health, emotional balance, effective relationships and self-knowledge. Their organisations are more resilient if their cultural, financial and human resources have depth; without this they find it hard to adapt to, let alone benefit from, changing social, economic, technological and political conditions.  Leaders also need extensive networks, which are frequently refreshed and extended. This is true in all sectors, cultural, commercial and political; without wide-ranging 'relationship radar', foresight is reduced and strategic thinking compromised.

The drive of the Programme is towards developing its participants across these three realms; personal, organisational and relational. A deeper asset bank gives capacity, depth gives choice and choice supports (but does not guarantee) effective decision making. The Programme uses a carefully developed suite of measuring and evaluation systems to help you chart progress and assess your decision making capacity.


Capacity is meaningless with a clearly defined purpose, both for the individual and his or her organisation. Purpose naturally lifts eyes to the horizon; to strategy, not tactics. Clarity of purpose is an invaluable feature of decision making. We test on probe purpose throughout the Programme:

  • What? How? Why? Often organisations and individuals are good at describing what they do and how they do it; they sometimes stumble over why? For MRL this is an important underlying question - why are you doing what you're doing? What's your purpose?

  • The personal and organisational planning process - using a framework to test and align strategy and tactics with purpose. We use a well-developed structure drawn from exemplary work in the cultural and commercial sectors. At the end of the Programme participants create a personal strategy plan

  • Ethics - how the leader articulates values and creates an ethically consistent narrative links directly to purpose. Having a strong ethical core is essential, especially when a decision involves two evenly balanced alternatives. Acting in alignment with a set of personal and organisational ethics makes the leadership task easier

  • Governance - using case studies covering real-world dilemmas in cultural and commercial organisations to examine purpose under stress. Sometimes a fog of misinformation and interpersonal friction can upset good governance; affect disabling effect

  • Testing - it's good to check, mission creep is not solely the province of the military; sometimes organisations can wander off course over time. Left unchecked this drift can turn into a financial or governance disaster


Core beliefs consistently enacted are the root of authenticity; it’s a key attribute of the resilient leader. How the leader enacts his or her values is a key dimension of personality and where value and actions consistently come together, the leader can generate presence.

Because this is such an important area, we use a number of exercises to help participants uncover their true beliefs. The mentoring and coaching parts of the Programme will help you work with your inner values and learn how to use them in the service of leadership.  

Presence is enhanced by a clarity of purpose and weakened by internal uncertainty. We also look at the difference between presence and charisma.


Broadly, we think of knowledge in two senses - inward and outward. Good leaders are great learners; they are continuously curious about themselves and the world around them. The programme provides a number of self-knowledge techniques using personal journals and mentoring sessions which are designed to help manage your ‘inner state’. These are added to by team working and scenario exercises in the workshops and, importantly, by the Overseas Study Visits which are key part of the MRL process. Each MRL also forms a support and reflection group which supports the growth of the reflective habit. We run a series of specially developed evaluation exercises, throughout the year and these offer both an objective and a subjective recording ‘space’.

We also ask participants to be alert to personal well being issues - health, stress and workload management. Support is offered in a number ways to manage stress and workload issues.

In an outward sense - what does the museum or cultural sector leader need to know about - our observation is that the role has becomes more complex as the sector has evolved. We cover this complexity through the Programme, almost always using real world examples where we can track decision making by practitioners. We use theoretical exercises infrequently.


There is a strong emphasis on honing the skills required for effective communication through group and pair work, role play, practice and discussion. Individual coaching is provided to participants during workshops and through the Programme-long mentoring support system.  We examine how successful leaders tell good stories, how they shape the narrative.

Many MRL participants find this area nerve wracking and the program provides plentiful opportunities to practice and rehearse. Feedback is offered by highly experienced facilitators and mentors and is designed to be accurate, helpful and to the point.


Since we are confident that a leader stands or falls by the decisions they take, the Programme looks closely at decision-making, with a focus on those participants take (or don't take) themselves over the year.  We provide support for the exercise of choice, gauging the personal, organisational and relational assets brought to bear at the point of selection. The MRL mentoring and coaching support system is focused on this and has helped a number of participants gain promotion or secure new jobs.


MRL develops the mindset of the cultural entrepreneur; the capacity to assess risk, act on informed instinct and seize opportunities. Many parts of the Programme cover entrepreneurship, through examining sites and institutional development opportunities, meeting commercial and social enterprise entrepreneurs and considering how cultural sector organisations have responded to their particular funding climate.


The strong leader continuously builds capacity in his or her teams. The Programme offers models and methods for doing this, often in workshop situations when responding to challenges.  Each year the MRL cohort itself grows and develops as a team, becoming an effective Action Learning Set and number of techniques and processes encourage this. Numbers of participants say that this process, forming a bonded self-help group, is one of the most valuable aspects of the MRL Programme.