Governance Now:The Hidden Challenge of Leadership


Download pdf

Download Issue #51

Governance now, the hidden challenge of leadership, the landscape, the leadership axis: the board and the executive, achieving good governance, addressing the challenges of governance, conclusions, biographies, bibliographies and links.


In the wake of Enron, Madoff and the collapse of the British banking system, the practice of governance has been brought under the media spotlight in the public sector no less than the commercial world. The report takes forward work begun at the Governance Now conference held in London in 2009. It contains some of the papers presented at the conference and additional material following up on the conference themes. The purpose of writing is to support the cultural sector to meet the challenge of achieving a necessary balance between the risk-taking essential to creativity and the financial prudence necessary to ensure sustainable organisations and safe governance.

Baroness Usha Prashar provides a discussion paper on the principles of good governance: value based leadership, a constructive relationship between the Chief Executive and the Chair, a clear mission statement, compelling, communicated and live–informing discussions, deliberations and decisions. Time for strategic reflection, a culture of openness within which different views are reflected and valued, independence of mind to ensure actions are in the public interest, attention to the task of sustaining resources, processes for evaluation and ability to change.

Governance Leadership by Graham Devlin begins by distinguishing between the generally applied responsibility for management and accountability and the less generally applied role of looking forward. He raises questions about the composition of Boards: the appropriateness of their skills and experience not always matching governance needs, and diversity (the inclusion of the young, the less well off, and those from marginalised communities)being a key concern. He makes the case for a governance code for the cultural sector on a ‘comply or explain’ basis with its efficacy monitored through funding agreements and a process of regular review.

Graham Devlin and Nicola Thorold ask whether charitable status is necessarily appropriate given that staff participation at Board level is restricted, as is the capacity of organisations to pursue a more entrepreneurial path. The relative merits of CIC and other structures are discussed. Their conclusions are neither for nor against the charitable model. They enjoin organisations to assess the model that best fits their mission and draw guidance from good practice guidelines produced by ACEVO and NCVO.

Marie Pye and Nick Goss provide a chapter on diversity with a discussion about the clear benefits to organisations that succeed in harnessing the talents and perspectives of a truly diverse workforce. They distinguish between equality and diversity recognising their mutual interdependence and assign the role to the Board of both driving and monitoring diversity so that the organisation is ‘diversity confident’. Achieving diversity is not an add-on but something that should be at the heart of the business plan and owned by all.

Roy Clare CBE continues this theme from a gender perspective and using the example of the museums sector argues that the public sector falls behind the private sector failing to draw upon the perspectives of women, younger people and those from black Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds. He describes audience development initiatives that have significantly invigorated collections and their interpretation and parallel moves to open up Boards to non-traditional contributors. Governance he says, is pivotal to this work.

In Partnership and Shared Vision Loretta Tomasi discusses the means to achieve a co-operative relationship between Board and Executive in order to overcome unhelpful conflict between programme and finance interests: what is needed is a whole organisation appreciation of the interdependence of programme and budget priorities.

This theme is taken up again in the article by John E McGrath, artistic director of National Theatre Wales who discusses the relationship between the curatorial and artistic decision making role of the CEO and the governance role of the Board. He makes the wider argument for establishing pathways for communication between the community, its artistic Director and Board members to build an organisation that ’surprises all with the story it is able to tell’ about the community in which it works.

In the Leadership Axis, four writers reveal the challenges they recognise in mediating the relationship between chair and executive and describe the four distinctly different approaches they have adopted. They agree that the core ingredients are trust and support, respect, a shared vision, strategic intent and congruence of aspiration.

Chapter 5, Achieving Good Governance returns to codes of practice – the Code of Governance for the Community and Voluntary Sector, the Carver Policy Governance Model and provides an agenda for Board Development days.

Chapter 6 discusses what to do when things go wrong. Addressing the Challenges of Governance names three of the issues most likely to take an organisation to the tipping point: loss of creative direction and leadership, lack of financial security and stakeholders who are more hindrance than help. Strategies for renewal are described.

The final chapter comes from the Cultural Leadership Programme itself providing a summary of the key debates, and proposing how the CLP intends to respond through its own resources and programmes ‘to ensure that organisations can shape and lead that destiny with authority and confidence’.

Available from and here