I’m in Gateshead and I can hear music. No, I haven’t gone doolally, though you might well wonder. The second work placement I’ve chosen to do for the Clore leadership programme is at Sage Gateshead (which was previously known as ‘The Sage Gateshead’, but is currently undergoing a brand refresh).
All kinds of music are happening here: classical, jazz, folk, rock, world, big band, soul and blues, to name a few. A highlight for me was Fiddlers Two By Two, one of the concerts in the recent Fiddles on Fire festival. A brilliant and spontaneous medley of music led by Kathryn Tickell, it featured surprising combinations of artists from different countries and traditions.
The best workplace perk I’ve ever come across is the ability to pop into the public viewing gallery in Hall One (the bigger of the two concert halls) and listen to rehearsals. And it’s been a delight to catch Northern Sinfonia as often as I have, whether in rehearsal or in performance.
It seems apt that I’m at a musical venue, because in many ways the Clore programme is about listening. I’ve had the privilege of sitting in on a huge variety of meetings and conversations, both here and on my previous placement at Battersea Arts Centre, and that has given me a sense of what the two organisations are doing, and how and why they are doing it.
I’m learning about things I knew little or nothing about before, from artistic programming to ticket sales, and from London’s fringe theatre scene to the cultural infrastructure of the north east of England. In both places I’ve encountered the excitement and the risks of putting on a live show – something I’ve not been exposed to at all in my job at The National Archives, of course.
Listening plays a large part in a course I’m taking (along with several other Clore fellows) called Relational Dynamics. The course covers elements of leadership and personal awareness, but is mainly focused on coaching, and provides the opportunity of gaining a coaching accreditation. The concept of ‘active listening’ is key to the coaching experience: it’s a way of enabling the coachee (horrible word!) to explore his or her thoughts, articulate positive goals and make decisions.
Amid all the coaching, both on the course and in the sessions I’ve had with my Clore coach, I’ve been trying hard to listen to my inner voice – or should that be voices? Temporarily leaving The National Archives has prompted me to take a more holistic approach to my life: I’m getting (re)acquainted with the different aspects of myself and attempting to understand how they fit together.
This is easier said than done, especially as I have the typically hectic diary of a Clore fellow. I’m shuttling between Gateshead, London and other places to attend meetings, conferences, workshops and other events, and I feel as though I’m scattered across many places, rather than being fully present anywhere.
I am by no means fully present to my friends and family at the moment – in fact, I’m very distracted – but they are often in my thoughts, and lots of memories are coming back to me. For instance, packing my things and moving to Gateshead reminded me of going away to university.
It isn’t all about looking back, because now is the time to consider what I might want to do in the future, both in my career and in my personal life. I’ve been thinking long and hard about my values, my motivations, the things that give me energy and the environments I thrive in, and I’m hoping that what I’m learning now will guide my future choices.
The two work placements have been particularly good opportunities to deepen my self-knowledge and explore what kind of leader I want to be. If listening is one side of the leadership coin, making an impact is the other, and I’ve tried to give something back to both organisations by delivering projects that I hope will be of real benefit to them.
Not being attached to a specific job description has been both fun and liberating. I’ve applied my skills in new contexts, and discovered skills I didn’t know I had. At Battersea Arts Centre my experience of project management, user research and online editing came in useful when I was asked to review the staff’s project methodology and suggest how they might develop their marketing.
At Sage Gateshead I’m looking at archiving from what is for me a completely new angle, by helping a young (nine-year-old) musical organisation define its archive and manage it strategically. I’m also continuing to learn about the links between archives and performance, and meeting archivists who either work in performing arts organisations or have done collaborative projects with artists, including Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums.
Working in a different place amongst people you haven’t met before can be challenging, particularly if you’re only there for a few weeks. In both organisations I’ve had to find my way around, set up meetings with the people I need to speak to and carry out my work as best I can, endeavouring not to make a nuisance of myself or commit a terrible faux pas in the process. However, some very welcoming and helpful people have cleared pathways for me, which has made all the difference.
I have a lot to think about at the moment, to put it mildly, and the intensity of the Clore experience is such that I’m approaching the limits of what I can absorb. But one piece of learning has struck me strongly in recent weeks, which is that what I have to offer is more than professional expertise – it’s me as a ‘whole’ person.
I’ve also discovered that the role of neutral outsider is an exciting and flexible one. You can see what others might not see, and say what they might not say. You’re not stuck being a passive listener, because you can reflect back what you hear, ask open questions and stimulate ideas.
Actually, the term ‘neutral’ isn’t entirely accurate, because I’ve done more than sit on the fence. I’ve been invited by two organisations that are very different to my own to say what I think, be constructively critical, give advice and help people change the way they work. This has boosted my confidence and encouraged me to speak in a new kind of voice. So I’m not just listening, but also learning how to be heard.