Category Archives: Leadership

Major Challenges Faced by Leaders @SHA

IMG_1610 1080pThe Seminar for Historical Administration has completed the first of a three-week program in Indianapolis and we’re learning a lot—sometimes it’s overwhelming. You’re getting great ideas from the presenters, classmates, and field trips and while we’re a bit quiet during our discussions, it’s probably more due to the processing of all the new information we’re receiving than from an unwillingness to share our opinions. At the end of the week, John Marks, Morgan L’Argent, and Jeff Matsuoka facilitated discussions around three major issues we encountered, including some of the major challenges they’ll be facing when they return to their institutions in a couple weeks. Do any of these sound familiar to you?

1. Managing change: How to best integrate new ideas in our institutions. Will management accept new ideas or recognize a need for change? Will we be allowed to discuss or instigate change? How can change occur within a hierarchical organization? Will our ideas be viewed as an inauthentic or insincere public relations effort? Will the staff and board take action? Are our expectations set too low, making new ideas too much to handle? Will our new ideas result in a loss of our job or alienate donors and supporters?

2. Broadening participation: Are we including other perspectives and voices? Are alternative opinions being heard? Are we working in an echo-chamber, just having a conversation of people who agree with us? How do we ensure volunteers are included?

3. The tyranny of the urgent: Too distracted by daily operations to tackle big issues. How do I pace myself when there’s a long list of things to do? How do I manage my existing workload while processing new ideas from SHA? How do I avoid being discouraged or feeling defeated?

4. Achieving alignment: Articulating a strategic plan that is progressive, cohesive, and relevant in an environment where status quo, non-reflection, and bureaucracy is the norm. How to overcome inertia? How to find alignment between a new vision for the organization and its mission, values, and priorities? How do I find the right team? How do I achieve ambitious goals within the limitations of my job description?

As the director of SHA, I’m absorbing all of these experiences, but I’m not thinking how I can apply them to my museum or historical society back home. Instead, my brain is rattling around with ways to make the program even better next year so that the participants are even more effective as leaders at their organizations and in the history field.

If you have suggestions or comments on these issues, I’d love to hear from you and I’ll be sure to share them with the class. You’ll also want to return to this blog in a few weeks to see how thinking has evolved.  SHA provides an ideal time to step back and reflect on these issues!

Amazing Faculty @SHA

Trevor Jones (SHA ’09)

If you’re fortunate enough to attend Developing History Leaders @SHA you’ll get the chance to learn from some amazing faculty. When I attended SHA in 2009, during the last week one of the presenters was Kent Whitworth, Executive Director of the Kentucky Historical Society.

Kent spoke openly and honestly about communication in the workplace, and how getting everyone on the team rowing the right direction is a key part of a leader’s job. He discussed using meetings to reach this goal, and how he used healthy conflict among the leadership team to improve performance. It was an eye opening day.

That talk changed my life in multiple ways. First, I immediately purchased Patrick Lencioni’s Death by Meeting which transformed how I thought about meetings and their fundamental purpose. After I got home, I told my wife, “I’d like to work for someone like Kent someday.”

Several months later a position opened at the Kentucky Historical Society. I was not looking to move and the timing was terrible, but my wife convinced me that if I did not apply I’d regret it, so I did. I worked for the Kentucky Historical Society for six years before taking my first director & CEO position at the Nebraska State Historical Society in 2016.

Your SHA experience may not be as transformative as mine, but it has the potential to be. That’s part of the reason @SHA is such an incredible opportunity.

Trevor Jones is Director/CEO of the Nebraska State Historical Society. He is a member of the SHA Class of 2009. 




The Importance of Great Leadership (cannot be overstated)

By the time I attended what is now Developing History Leaders @ the Seminar for Historical Administration in 2005, the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites had been through 6 different CEOs in 7 years. In our final exercise as a class, the great history leader, Denny O’Toole, lead us in a conversation regarding what we, as a class, felt were the 5 best characteristics of a good leader.

They were:

5. Passionate
4. Humility
3. Big Picture Thinker
2. Communication Skills, particular listening

and finally…

1.  Integrity.

As you might imagine, I took special note of these, writing them down and posting on the wall in my office immediately afterwards where it has stayed ever since (yes literally for going on 12 years now).

The ISMHS was caught in a whirlpool. Not only was the institution floundering, but the staff, especially those of us who had endured the revolving door of leadership, was worn down and spinning in slow circles. Before the spinning stopped, we had 8 leadership changes in 9 years. Luckily, our collective stakeholders finally became aware of what was needed and the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites has come roaring out of the tail spin, moving forward with renewed vigor.

The author’s office wall with its many inspirational quotes and various facts. The 5 characteristics of a great leader as determined by the SHA class of 2005 are circled in red.

A series of challenges were overcome to get us where we are today. Like many similar state institutions, the history of the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites is long and complex. The museum was established in 1869 and state historic sites established beginning in 1917 and continuing throughout the 20th century. A move to the former Indianapolis City Hall in 1967 brought the museum and sites together based on their basic missions of collecting and preserving. Then, in 2002, the State of Indiana built and opened a new state museum building (the first in the state’s history built for that specific purpose). The opening required immense paradigm shifts: quadrupling our exhibition space, moving massive collections, dealing with a sudden, much larger public profile in the Indianapolis cultural arena and adding needed staff, along with everything else that went with such a change.

The Indiana State Museum in Indianapolis, Indiana

One of the changes anticipated with the building’s opening was a transition from a state agency to that of a quasi-governmental entity, allowing flexibility for such common museum practices such as rental of traveling exhibitions, funds generated from deaccessions used for artifact acquisitions, etc. However, the attempts to create this quasi-governmental entity proved more challenging than anticipated.

In 2009, ISMHS stakeholders began to realize that the struggle required someone who had both an understanding of Indiana’s political landscape as well as extensive fundraising and organizational skills. The selection of Tom King, former CEO with the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce and also recently retired president of the omnipresent (at least to the Hoosier State) nonprofit, Lilly Foundation, was an extremely wise choice. He worked first to build the board, using extensive communications skills and sharing his larger, long term goals and then establishing a core group of invested and interested individuals from around the state. He firmly and forcefully showed his integrity by ensuring all aspects of the ISMHS were properly represented.

Then came the successful legislation in 2011 that established the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites Corporation, as “a public body, corporate and politic.” To say that lots of careful thought and effort went into establishing the corporation is not even half of it. We thoroughly and carefully examined every word, punctuation mark, and so on: from careful wording of what constitutes a quorum to the definitions to the abilities of the corporation. Once again, Tom demonstrated all of these characteristics in that process. And then the real work began…

Very soon after we became a corporation work began on INvision, a capital campaign for the State’s Bicentennial in 2016 and for the museum’s sesquicentennial in 2019. It was no small effort with a $17 million goal, major rehabilitation of the permanent galleries at the Indiana State Museum, and a large project at each of the 11 State Historic Sites. But we are moving forward confidently and surely into the institution’s next chapter. When Tom King retires from the ISMHS this spring, he will have brought about all this transition, this turnaround, through his strong, steady, and sure leadership. With our board, he will also have helped hand pick his successor. He has done all this with integrity, passion, humility, great listening skillsm and by thinking very big about what the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites could be. Unsurprisingly, those 5 characteristics of a great leader that my SHA Class of 2005 identified all those years ago.

A new day dawned Dec. 8, 2016, for the Levi and Catharine Coffin State Historic Site when the ribbon was cut to open the visitor center there. The white building in the photo is the visitor center sitting just north of the Levi and Catharine Coffin Home. The project was one of the highest profile in the ISMHS’ INvision campaign.  

Laura Minzes is Associate Vice President of Historic Sites, Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites Corporation and a proud member of the SHA Class of 2005.

Knowing Where to Look for Answers (or Artifacts)

Periodically, I take out the massive binder that I received my first day at Developing History Leaders @SHA in October of 2012. As my desk groans under its weight, I flip through its pages and look for answers to questions that although may be appearing for the first time for me, have been raised since the first year of SHA – and probably for as long as museums have existed. On this particular day, I turned to the section entitled “Visioning for Impact.” I looked over the article written by (the now sadly retired) John Durel and I reflected on a few of the questions he posed when trying to identify an institution’s core purpose:

“Why does your museum exist? Why is it important? Why bother?”

When I had first arrived at SHA I couldn’t have answered any of those questions. I was in a unique position in that I hadn’t worked a single day at my institution yet. Some time between getting accepted into SHA and arriving on that first day, I had quit my job as Executive Director of the Queens Historical Society in Flushing, NY, and accepted a position at the Kupferberg Holocaust Center (KHC) at Queensborough Community College in Bayside, NY. The three weeks in Indianapolis was the transition period between what would be two varied parts of my employment history. While a historical society based in a landmarked house is very different from a Holocaust resource center on a college campus, I feel that no matter where you are and what aspect of history you are preserving, it all comes down to telling a good story. When you are passionate about history, it’s contagious. And if you are somehow able to show your visitor how this history impacted you – then they can be impacted as well.

My “a-ha” moment took place in July of 2015. A friend from high school, who I hadn’t spoken to in years, contacted me through Facebook about a unique object she had found. Jillian, who deals vintage clothing and jewelry as a hobby, went to an estate sale in the suburbs of NYC. In the back of a walk in closet, buried among a lifetime’s worth of clothing, was a striped jacket. She quickly purchased it amid a few other pieces for $10, and when she looked at the jacket once outside in her car, her suspicions were confirmed. The blue and gray stripes, the years of dirt, the distinctive numbers written on the left breast – it appeared to be the jacket of a concentration camp uniform. When she sent me the photos I was stunned that she could have potentially found something this rare at a yard sale. Immediately I thought of the Dachau Concentration Camp, where I had seen photos that showed similar uniform patterns. With that tiny bit of information, Jillian cross-referenced the number on the jacket with an online Dachau prisoner database and she got a name – Benzion Peresecki. She looked up the name of the homeowner from the estate sale – Ben Peres, a name too similar to the prisoner not to be connected.


Image Credit: Kupferberg Holocaust Center

Jillian donated the jacket to the KHC and that’s when our research truly began. The first step however, was contacting the family running the estate sale to confirm its authenticity and to find out how something this precious might have been overlooked. When we got the owner on the phone she was in disbelief. Lorrie, the daughter of Ben Peres, born Benzion Peresecki in Lithuania in 1926 and died in 1978 of a stroke, was in fact a Holocaust survivor who had been imprisoned at Dachau. But Lorrie was unaware of the jacket’s existence or any other material connected to the Holocaust because her father never spoke of his experience. When we invited her to the Center to see the jacket for herself, she was stunned. Lorrie was surprised that the jacket existed, and overwhelmingly grateful that Jillian happened to discover it and donate it to the Center before it was discarded with other old clothing.


Image Credit: Kupferberg Holocaust Center

Lorrie was so moved that she returned a few weeks later with over 1,500 documents, photographs, passports, home movies, and other materials that had belonged to her father that she found in the house they were in the process of selling. A story came together. Benzion Peresecki/Prisoner 84679/Ben Peres became one person who lived three very different lives. With the jacket and all these archival materials from Lorrie, we were able to launch an exhibition here at the Center in October 2016 that tells the story of the Holocaust through one man’s unique journey. Every time I give a tour of the exhibit I feel personally connected to Ben Peres, and I know that this is conveyed to the visitor. I feel privileged to have played even a small role in this project’s coming to fruition.

Now, just over four years after attending SHA, I can now easily answer those seemingly “basic” questions about my institution. There’s the more technical answer – To show the community the significance of past genocides, the dangers of prejudice that remain today, and inspire them to become advocates for social change. But then there’s the more personal answer – to remind ourselves that every story of the Holocaust or any human rights violations is our story as well. No matter our race, religion, nationality, when one human suffers, we all do. The more time I spend at the KHC, the more I realize how important it is for this Center to exist and how as an educator, I can impact the lives of visitors through connections made from primary sources.

Throughout your careers in museums, archives, historic houses, and any other type of institution that works to preserve history, you will have many questions. The beauty of having participated in SHA is that you will always be able to find someone who has dealt with that same question at some point or who can point you in the right direction. And you can always take out that huge binder.

Marisa (Berman) Hollywood (SHA ‘12) is the Assistant Director of the Kupferberg Holocaust Center at Queensborough Community College – CUNY in Queens, NY. A doctoral student of English at St. John’s University, she is a museum professional and historian specializing in Cultural Studies, Costume and Textile History, Museology, and Historic Preservation. Always seeking new and innovative ways to get people interested in their local history, she has written two recent books about Long Island history.

The Jacket from Dachau: One Survivor’s Search for Justice, Identity, and Home is on view at the Kupferberg Holocaust Center through June 2015. For more information about the exhibit, click here or check out this video about the story of the jacket’s discovery.




Journey from Thought to Action

The Journey from Thought to Action
Chris Goodlett, SHA Class of 2016

Kentucky Derby Museum

It’s been about a week and half since I returned from SHA. I think about the experience daily and am still coping with the challenge of how to turn thought and discussion into action at my own institution, the Kentucky Derby Museum. Returning to the office during a holiday week allowed some time for reflection, and I spent ample time reviewing things. I went back and listened to the keynote address by John Fleming. I found myself adding key details to my synopsis of his discussion on implicit bias. I reviewed other presentations as well and again found details that I had missed.

Of course, as great as it is to return to the experience that is SHA, at some point you have to think about what it means for your institution. I have an advantage as we are currently going through strategic planning. What better time to introduce some of the concepts I learned from faculty and peers at SHA. Presenting the ideas as action items is the first challenge. As my fellow SHA graduates can attest, your head is swimming with ideas after your three weeks away, and you need to find ways to translate these into something measurable.

Of the many ideas I brought back from SHA, one I keep returning to is community outreach. As I listened to faculty discuss history relevance and asking “so what?” and “for whom?” I felt that KDM can be more intentional in asking these questions in its community. As an entity that looks at the history and culture surrounding an iconic American sporting event, the citizens of Kentucky commemorate the Derby in unique ways. Many SHA faculty related stories of how engaging potential audiences with stories relevant to them transformed their institutions, and it’s my hope that KDM can engage the surrounding community with similar results.

That’s just one small, but important, idea to start. I hope to be able to report successes on the road to relevance. I’m very interested in learning about the efforts of my fellow SHA 2016 alums, as well as others who have taken ideas and thoughts from SHA and turned them into action.

Business for History Professionals



I came to SHA for a variety of reasons- networking, growing my knowledge of the field, and learning new skills relevant to my particular role, to name a few. At the top of my list was a desire to become more savvy about the business side of running a museum. As someone whose educational background is in history, and who works with interpretation and exhibits for a large organization, I arrived eager to learn more about matters that are outside my day-to-day responsibilities. Here are 3 takeaways from our sessions this past week.


Every single staff member and volunteer in a museum plays a role in development. I’m focused on the guest experience in my museum, which occasionally extends consciously into the realm of development. Since gifts depend on an institution’s reputation, mission, and the love that a donor has for our work, all departments have an effect on our ability to secure those gifts, just as they do in our ability to provide a positive guest experience. I also had a chance to make my first “ask.” I was deferred because I hadn’t been able to provide data on impact. I won’t make that mistake twice, especially in real life.

History leaders need to be involved in the financial process of their museum, regardless of their department. One of our speakers, Jeff Matsuoka, VP Business and Operations at the Indiana Historical Society described budgeting as “a decision to allocate resources in certain places and not in others.” In order to do this, we need to know our revenue streams and how they compare in terms of percentage of total revenue, develop a cash flow model which includes personnel and operating expenses. No museum is so large that they can do everything they want to do, and, for a mission-based organization, the strategic plan guides both the budget and the program. The preparation I did for the session on finance helped me to better understand my own institution’s business model, and investigate those of other museums.

Business model case studies help leaders train themselves to succeed based on what they would do in a given situation. Disengaged boards, personnel costs dangerously similar to total income, crumbling buildings, lagging attendance. Amidst all of these challenges, my first instinct as the hypothetical advisor to the CEO of “Old Pemberly Village” (a fictitious historic site) was to advise her to seek other employment. But there were also positives, like robust local college programs, positive new hires, and community partners. Working through this for a few hours as a group along with our guest faculty member for guidance, we turned OPV into a viable, vibrant, relevant part of its community…at least on paper.


There is one benefit that I hadn’t expected of my time here that I am appreciating all the more each day. There is a freedom that comes from being in a room as professional equals with colleagues who are at varying levels within their organizations from the top to the middle, and yet none of whom report to one another. If I don’t know how to approach a problem, I get to hear the directors in the room share how they would, or have solved that problem. It’s kind of like being a freshman and having friends who are seniors.

Kate Morland is Museum Manager at The Henry Ford.

Class of 2015, and a visit with Denny O’Toole

Developing History Leaders @SHA gets underway at the end of this week. The Class of 2015 will gather in Indianapolis to begin three weeks of learning and dialogue about the many ways we bring history to communities across the country. A distinguishing characteristic of this year’s class is its geographic spread, with greater representation from the West than is usually the case. This class includes students from Texas, California, Montana, Idaho, North Dakota, and the Yukon Territory in Canada.

While in Santa Fe last week visiting our son, Anita and I had the pleasure of having breakfast with Denny and Trudy O’Toole. For those who don’t know, Denny was the coordinator of SHA prior to my taking the position in 2010. The O’Toole scholarship is named in his honor. Denny was a leader in our field for decades, and inspired and influenced many who now lead and work in history organizations. It has been an honor for me to follow in his footsteps.

Denny was eager to hear about the 2015 class. We talked about what has changed, and what has not, since he passed the baton. Some faculty continue to serve – Conny Graft on evaluation, Barbara Franco and Laura Roberts on organizational change, Kent Whitworth on team building – and we continue to engage with many of the same local organizations – the Indiana Medical History Museum, the Indianapolis Children’s Museum, the Eiteljorg Museum, and Conner Prairie, where we will again participate in “Follow the North Star.” John Herbst and the amazing staff at the Indiana Historical Society continue to host the seminar and provide invaluable support.

Of course, much has changed. Every year there are a few new topics in response to student suggestions and emerging new practices. This year, building on changes made over the past two or three years, we will place emphasis on historical interpretation of contested history. David Young from Cliveden of the National Trust will frame the issues by addressing the role of public history in communities today; Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko from the Abby Museum will present her approach to decolonization in working with the native peoples of Maine; and Sarah Pharaon from the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience will engage the students in methods of dialogue when addressing difficult topics.

We will also continue to tackle the basic challenges of leadership of history organizations: building financially sustainable organizations, stewarding collections, engaging communities, and leading change. Also, a number of the faculty have been involved in the History Relevance Campaign, so we’ll have frequent discussions about the value of history in contemporary life.

I’m really looking forward to seeing what this year’s class thinks and has to say about public history and the work we do to bring history to people in our communities. See you in Indy!

Getting to be a Habit

SHA 2014 at the Indiana Statehouse

SHA 2014 at the Indiana Statehouse

Getting to be a Habit

By Rachel Abbott & Jacqueline Langholtz

Habit: A settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.

They say it takes 21 days to form a habit. By the time we head back home on Saturday we will have been here in Indianapolis for 21 days. Coincidence? Yes, but an interesting one when reflecting on our time here so far and anticipating the return home.

By coming to SHA, what were we telling ourselves we were going to try for 21 days? What habits were we hoping to form?

1. Practicing reflection & self-examination.

RA: Since being here I’ve gotten in the habit of asking “why?” a lot. “Why are we doing it this way?” “Why do you say that?” “Why are we struggling to accomplish our goals?” Seeing so many different strategies, styles and models has made me even more aware than I was before that we have options. We can choose to shift focus, to take risks and even to let some things go. It’s been incredibly useful and beneficial to look at my organization with a critical eye and I hope I can continue to do that.

2. Asking for help.

RA: I wanted to come to SHA and learn as much as possible from everyone. I wanted to ask my classmates questions, ask our speakers questions, ask local museum leaders questions. I wanted to get into this habit in order to squeeze as much professional development juice out of this experience as I could. And now I find myself hoping that this is a new habit, a new way of working. I work with experts in my “real life” too, and I could be doing a better job of asking them questions and learning from them every day.

SHA 2014 at Conner Prairie before participating in the Follow the North Star Program

SHA 2014 at Conner Prairie before participating in the Follow the North Star Program

3. Going outside our comfort zones.

JCL: Participating in SHA requires taking risks, showing vulnerability, trying the unknown, and trusting in others. Many days have been spent immersed in areas of the field that are foreign and unfamiliar territory: developing a case for support, making a fundraising pitch, strategic planning, creating an entrepreneurial venture plan, and more. A phrase we’ve heard echoed throughout SHA is if you’re feeling uncomfortable you’re doing it right. The hardest seminar days included their fair share of discomfort – they’ve also yielded the most growth, both individually and for our group. It’s easy to do what you’re already good at, avoiding both discomfort and growth. Two weeks into SHA, our class is finding that growing pains are worth it.

4. Focusing on the necessary.

RA: I hoped that being removed from day-to-day work would bring priorities into sharper focus. By stopping everything I would see that some things are more critical than others. We’ve been talking about the importance of the field of history being seen as necessary rather than just nice. I hope that when I get back to work I’ll be better equipped to let go of the activities that might just be nice in order to focus on the things that are most necessary.

5. Nurturing relationships.

RA: Both Jacqueline and I are very social people at home. We prioritize the relationships and community-building in our lives. So we wanted to maintain those habits at SHA. But we also hoped to do a better job of focusing on the people right in front of us. Here in Indy our social circle is always right in front of us. And I think it’s been great practice in not spreading ourselves too thin while still maintaining relationships. Hopefully we can take this habit home with us.

6. Nurturing ourselves.

JCL: Both of us came to SHA with personal habits we wanted to start, something we bonded over early on. While here, we’ve both made daily workouts a priority, Rachel now starts her day an hour earlier than usual, and I’ve abstained from eating meat. These might sound more like lifestyle choices than seminar work, but the intention is aligning “best self” with “best work” and recognizing that the two go hand in hand. It will take discipline to continue the many habits we’ve started here, and may mean creating new boundaries and structure once home. It can feel selfish to make yourself a priority; you may need to say no to others in order to say yes to yourself. After SHA, I plan to do more to protect that balance.



Typically our jobs are about setting and accomplishing goals. Attending SHA, however, is much more about forming new habits that we hope will make us more productive, efficient and effective leaders. We came into this experience with hopes to establish some new habits and now, after 21 days, we may have laid the groundwork. Some bad habits are waning and better habits are taking shape. But returning home is the real test. That’s when we’ll see whether the habits stuck, when we can choose to continue these habits or not.

Sunset on the canal - what habits will we bring home with us?

Sunset on the canal – what habits will we bring home with us?

We know we’ll encounter some triggers – challenges that might cause us to revert to and accept our own old habits. Institutional inertia. Difficulty in communication. Disagreements over priorities. Hearing the word no.

While we hope that the 21 day rule is real and that our new habits have taken root, we’re confident this experience has given us the tools and support to keep working at it.

Rachel Abbott is the Program Associate for Historic Sites and Museums at the Minnesota Historical Society. Jacqueline Langholtz is the Manager of School & Group Programs at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. Both hope the habit of working together will last long past their stay in Indy.

Here we go! Class of 2014 is underway.

Today begins the 2014 Class of Developing History Leaders @SHA. Twenty-one public history practitioners from across the nation have gathered in Indianapolis to learn from leaders, and from one another, about changes that are occurring in our field. Increasingly history organizations are finding ways to be more relevant to the people in their communities, states, the nation and the world. Innovative and courageous leaders are addressing tough issues, as the world around us continues to change.

First up will be Jan Gallimore, Executive Director of the Idaho State Historical Society, who will discuss the challenges she has faced in getting her organization “to the table” at the state level, in helping state leaders to address issues of education and economic development. So often history is left out of discussions about the big issues confronting our communities. History is viewed as something nice to have, but not especially useful when it comes to improving the lives of people. This has to change.

Tomorrow David Young from Cliveden will engage the class in thinking about some of the critical and tough issues facing their communities, and how history can be part of the solution, using his own experience in the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia.

But wait a minute, why do we have to change? Can’t we continue to operate our organizations as we always have, caring for the historic collections and buildings, sharing our expert knowledge through exhibitions and publications, and inviting the public to do research and enjoy events at our places? Tomorrow afternoon Susie Wilkening from Reach Advisors will discuss changes external to our field that compel us to change: demographic and economic trends, changing views of the value of museums, new philanthropic priorities, changing expectations of the public regarding leisure and education, and more. Institutions that don’t change will be left behind.

On Tuesday Tim Grove from the National Air and Space Museum and Jamie Glavic from the Ohio Historical Society will present changes in technology. In this case we have begun to embrace change as younger people have entered the field. Tim and Jamie will help us understand what is happening and what is coming in technology.

Stay tuned for more blog posts over the next three weeks.

Remembering the Important Things: Applying Life-Lessons Learned at SHA

One of the most attractive aspects of our field is its assumed connection to good-will; the altruistic devotion to the betterment, the enlightenment, and the enrichment of those we serve through our organizations. In an all-about-me world, it is refreshing to think that people still selflessly rally around noble causes. I believe that at its core, our field is still selflessly devoted to noble causes—it is what we do. While the core of our work is praiseworthy, we who are leaders in the field know that it is… well… work. The shear amount of effort required to maintain our organizations is staggering and often exhausting. As well-meaning as we are as leaders, we can become consumed and burdened by the ins-and-outs of daily work and lose sight of the noble causes that attracted us to the field in the first place. The effects of this are often stirring, jarring, sobering. We may become preoccupied with business for business’ sake, or with building legacies and empires. We may lose sight of ourselves outside the workplace. We may fizzle out like a candle lit at both ends. How do we keep ourselves from such fates? We take time to remember what is most important in our work and in ourselves.

One of the most compelling sessions during my SHA experience was with Anne Ackerson regarding the importance of good mission statements.  A good mission statement ought to point to an organization’s true north. The Henry Ford’s mission statement is a little long, but it is good… it defines, it gives purpose… it tells staff, partners, and guests why we exist… it speaks to what we do and what we will continue to do in the future.

The Henry Ford provides unique educational experiences based on authentic objects, stories, and lives from America’s traditions of ingenuity, resourcefulness, and innovation.  Our purpose is to inspire people to learn from these traditions to help shape a better future.

The Henry Ford is a very large and complex organization with 2,000 employees working across five large venues: Greenfield Village, Henry Ford Museum, Ford Rouge Factory Tour, and the Benson Ford Research Center, and IMAX Theater. Over 400 interpreters engage guests with the Institution’s core stories across its venues. It is vital that this large group keep sight of mission on a daily basis. Every morning, groups of interpreters meet with their managers and supervisors across campus for daily briefings. I am thrilled to be able to meet with these groups on a rotating basis. Whenever I do, I recite The Henry Ford’s mission statement—not for trite or cheesy reasons—but because (as I remind my interpreter colleagues) our mission outlines why The Henry Ford exists, why we have jobs, why we tell the stories we tell. This group hears mission so often that many interpreters have it memorized… some even recite it along with me. During morning briefings, I often ask staff how their work on any given day fits into the mission. I am often very encouraged by the responses I hear. Such familiarity with mission helps each interpreter put his or her work in context with the larger organization, and reminds him or her of why it matters. As leaders in the history field, it is vital to remind ourselves and our colleagues why our respective organizations exist. This may be done simply by keeping mission forefront in conversation and thought. How long has it been since you looked at your organization’s mission statement? Do you know it? Does your staff know it? Does it impact your daily work? Without a noble purpose—a noble mission, and without examining that mission regularly, an organization is prone to fragmentation and its employees to disenfranchisement.

Finally, it is vital to remember personal core values and motivations that extend beyond the workplace. Another memorable session during my SHA experience took place on the last day of our three-week seminar. This session brought some of our class to tears…literally (readers, no laughing allowed)!  Trina Nelson Thomas reminded my classmates and me that work is only one component of our very complex lives. As leaders in the field, this is sometimes difficult to grasp. We are often highly-dedicated people who give much of ourselves to our vocations. The history we interpret is very complex, and so are we. In order to maintain a healthy perspective in my own work, I have to remember that, in addition to being a museum professional, I love reading history (shocker); I am a music lover; I am inspired by rolling mountains, raging seas, and open fields; I love great meals and conversation; I covet the time I spend with wonderful family and friends; I take great joy in studying the theology of my Christian faith. I am so much more than my work.  Keeping that in mind ultimately helps me perform more strongly in my role at The Henry Ford. What motivates you outside of work? What brings you joy and fulfillment apart from your job? As leaders we must remind ourselves that we are more than our museums… as much as we love them.

The field of history is filled with good will— with noble causes. As leaders in the field we will better serve these noble causes if we maintain perspective— if we remember what is most important. Keeping in the forefront of my mind the mission of my organization while taking time to celebrate myself as a well-rounded individual has helped me in this task. I hope that it may help you as well.

Ryan Spencer (SHA ’12), The Henry Ford

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