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The Blind Leap of Leadership
Laura Day Giarolo, Director of Learning and Community Engagement, OPERA America
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Original Content1/24/2012

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"I need you to jump off a cliff."
— President Josiah Bartlett, "The West Wing," Season 6, episode 3 ("Third Day Story")

It's not exactly the warmest, most enthusiastic job offer ever; yet, in many ways, assuming a position of leadership requires a leap of faith. Whether an individual is a new CEO or it is his or her first time supervising staff, being an effective leader requires a delicate blend of personal know-how and interpersonal skills.

A senior executive, such as a department head or CEO, must have a basic, practical understanding of their own job, as well as that of those under them. Often, this individual has risen through the ranks of his or her department or area of expertise, and so has hands-on and personal experience in all areas of oversight. Other times, the leader may be new to the industry, or may have come from a related company or field. For example, a fundraising professional may have come to opera from health care or social services. This person would have a basic understanding of the roles and responsibilities within a development department, but would still have a learning curve to get to know the opera company-specific procedures, and to meet the organization's major donors.

A new chief executive (regardless of official title) often faces a high hurdle as well: he or she will have had deep experience in one or more functional areas, but may be less familiar with the ins and outs of every department. The complex task of running an opera company requires close collaboration between many individuals with artistic temperaments. It takes a compelling and dynamic individual to keep the ball rolling and simultaneously smooth any ruffled feathers.

These skills take time and training to develop, which is why OPERA America has for several years provided professional development and leadership training through its Leadership Advance and New General Directors Roundtable meetings at the Annual Conference.

OPERA America's new Leadership Intensive program will offer emerging leaders the opportunity to learn more about the fine details of executive leadership in opera. Designed for those who have demonstrated their professional commitment to opera and who are ready to take that leap of faith, the Leadership Intensive combines exclusive sessions at Opera Conference 2012 in Philadelphia with a full week of professional development in July at no cost to participants. For more information and to apply, please visit www.operaamerica.org/leadership.
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