Little did I know that when I turned up for Oxford Cultural Leaders (OCL) in March 2018 that it would be the start of a journey towards a change in my career. On a cold Monday morning I found myself in a brightly-lit room in Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum not really knowing what to expect. Would this week-long residential course be helpful? Would I be nervous? What would these people be like? Would I be able to implement any of this back at work?
Quickly however it became apparent that I was not alone. Everyone had the same apprehensions. Phew! Alongside me not just that day, but over the entire week I worked alongside a group of like-minded peers from across the cultural and creative sectors, who were all on a similar leadership journey. Even though I’d never met this group of people before I felt strangely at home, comfortable, at ease. Maybe it was because I was outside of the boundaries of work, but quickly, it became clear that many of the challenges that I’d been facing and had been thinking about were reflected by this diverse and inspiring group of new friends and colleagues. All of a sudden, I had a trusted network that I could relate to, discuss and debate with, speak with openly and honestly, and ended up making professional and personal friendships.
Taking a leap to become freelance is a daunting experience. I’m not sure I’d recommend it to anyone right now, especially during a pandemic, but little did I know that we would be hit so hard when I started to work for myself early in 2020. It was the start of a new decade and I needed a change. It’s been tough, complex and often frustrating, but over time has slowly become more fulfilling and stable. And much of what I learnt at OCL resonates with me today. It’s funny that we sometimes think that we’ll be able to implement what we learn immediately, but with me things often take time to percolate.
In my spare time I write. I always remember what the late Andrea Levy said about her writing process. She wrote one hour a day, that was all. The rest of the time she spent thinking. I’m not saying that that is how we all need to approach our work, but it does occur to me that giving what I learnt at OCL about being an adaptive leader the time to settle over time, gave me the strength to change my working life around.
Every year I go back to OCL as part of the Faculty and help run the Innovation Panel, a ‘Dragon’s Den’ for the cultural sector. Apart from the meals and conversation it’s one of the highlights of the week, when the cohort gets together towards the end of the week to think up innovative ways of raising revenue. Innovation in the cultural sector isn’t always easy, but OCL empowers everyone to think innovatively, so that they can get the most from their institutions. What transpires is amazing. Big ideas that take people out of their comfort zones, ideas that challenge and new ways of thinking that everyone can take away.
These days I like to call myself a communications consultant, but truth be told, I do a lot of different things. I support businesses through peer networking and mentoring, I undertake community consultations for museums, I create communications strategies and media campaigns, I set up Innovation Districts, I write. But overall I feel like I can adapt, so I can pivot easily across many different pieces of work, and in many ways that’s thanks to OCL.
For more info about me, see www.mikilentin.net or @mikilentin https://www.linkedin.com/in/mikilentin/.