The Path to Success in the Museum World: Finding the Story

Colleen Dilenschneider of the blog, Know Your Own Bone, just wrote a fantastic post about an informal survey she conducted on the academic backgrounds of 17 top museum directors in the states. Take a read by clicking here! Her conclusion? There isn’t one path to success–at least not in the museum world, and at least not in terms of a specific graduate degree. What struck me the most after reading her article is that knowing business and knowing art are extremely important if you want to achieve top management at a museum, as if this was not already obvious. However, what has really propelled these individuals into positions of leadership are not their qualifications–the Ph.D. behind their name or the thesis they wrote on 19th century art–but their relationship-building skills.

Over the summer, I worked in a Development Department at a major regional art museum and one of the main points I took away from that experience was the fact that most museum directors are terrific at raising money, and that development work is first and foremost about learning to listen to people, finding a story, and making a connection. Degrees and universities vary, but the mark of a true museum leader is their ability to find the story, to locate the uniqueness in every situation and in each person they work with or who they meet. Infusing a situation with genuine interest more often than not results in the other person returning the gesture and wanting to build a relationship further with that leader and their institution. This is something for all of us who are aspiring or current museum leaders to keep in the forefront of our practice. Thank you for another great post, Colleen!


2 responses to “The Path to Success in the Museum World: Finding the Story

  1. Pingback: Twitter Trackbacks for The Path to Success in the Museum World: Finding the Story « [] on

  2. In my early years, I spent a lot of time in grad school accumulating two masters degrees; the so called working degree. I gained a lot of knowledge and learned how to manipulate facts and figures. But I must admit, most of my academic life left me void of any true wisdom. And, therefore, my climb up the ladder of a successful career was very shakey and precarious.

    As you so beautifully stated in your post, true success in any walk of life depends more on heart skills , than on head skills. Your intellect will not let you “Stop and smell someones roses;” but your heart will. To make a connection and keep it, you must first “See” a person before you can listen to their story. To see though the eyes of unconditional love takes only a moment. But then you must conscientiously make the decision to invest your precious time to Stop, and listen to their story. And even more so, to allow their story to become entwined in your story, thereby creating a relationship that can flower and grow.

    What a great post MJ Writes. It reminds me of a young reporter I once knew who worked on the Nogales International Newspaper. That’s probably where she first learned to “listen to people, find a story, and make a connection.” You don’t learn that in grad school. You learn that in Life 101 through trial and error.

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