LEADERSHIP - The change agent

MRL uses a definition of leadership based on the World Bank's description:

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.

John Kotter (Leading Change,1996 & 2012 and other publications) breaks the change process down into a number of steps:

  • Step 1: Create urgency – sparking initial motivation to get things moving.
  • Step 2: Form a powerful coalition – who will support and influence change.
  • Step 3: Create a vision for change – which people can understand and sign up to.
  • Step 4: Communicate the vision – frequently and powerfully.
  • Step 5: Remove obstacles – identify and remove individuals resisting along with any processes or structures getting in the way of success.
  • Step 6: Create short term wins – nothing motivates more than success.
  • Step 7: Build on the change – don’t declare victory too early, identify what is going right and what needs to be improved.
  • Step 8: Anchor the change in corporate culture – to make change stick it must become part of the core of an organisation.

Although all of Kotter's stages are part of MRL thinking, his focus is on the corporate sector, where large scale change programmes are the norm. On MRL we emphasise the need for continuous change and the role of the leader in shaping this. This leads us to focus on the key function of the leader; making decisions.

The decision making leader

Leadership is the exercise of the power to make decisions in the service of an 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 the 'decision moment'; how the leader approaches it and what assets he or she brings to bear.  We identify four attributes and four abilities that go to support the leader's decision-making capability.



For MRL, 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.  


A clearly defined purpose, both for the individual and his or her organisation, is a sure guide to decision making. Segments of the Programme test and develop mission, covering:

  • 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


The personality of the leader always matters. The core beliefs which underpin authenticity can't be mimicked, however acting in ways congruent with your values can be practised. Some MRL exercises are used to help participants learn to master their 'inner game', with faculty and trainers providing coaching and feedback throughout the Programme.  You will meet leaders with presence and also study those who have failed the 'inner control' challenge. Presence is enhanced by a clarity of purpose and weakened by internal uncertainty. We also look at the difference between presence and charisma.


Good leaders are great learners; they are continuously curious.  MRL offers a range of discovery based learning techniques designed to prompt curiosity, adapted to a wide spread of learning styles. As well as sections which are straightforwardly content rich, e.g. on finance or how to make excellent presentations, parts of the Programme cover self-knowledge techniques, working with and knowing others in your teams, and how to continuously expand your horizons. There are segments on networks and network mapping, including the use of social media. The Programme specifically highlights the importance of self-knowledge and the participant's individual learning journey.



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.


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 through the mentoring system and via the online Personal Log system for the exercise of choice, gauging the personal, organisational and relational assets brought to bear at the point of selection. The Log structure is then used in mentoring sessions to reflect on the process; whether a decision was a good or bad one.  Case studies are used to examine real world decision making in the cultural, commercial and political spheres; often a pertinent question is "When did things start to go wrong?".  What was awry in the governance, leadership and management radar?


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.