Museum Leadership in Practice: A New Zealand Case Study
Museum leadership is an under investigated area of museum studies. This dissertation contributes to museum leadership research by applying leadership theory to a case study of the career of Jim Geddes, a museum director who works in the town of Gore in Southland, New Zealand. In 2008 Geddes won Museums Aotearoa's inaugural Individual Achievement Award for putting Gore on the national cultural map by establishing the Eastern Southland Gallery, the Hokonui Heritage Centre, the Croydon Aviation Museum and for expanding Gore's Historical Museum. How did Geddes achieve this successful cultural entrepreneurship in such an unlikely small rural town? The central research question asks how leadership has manifested itself in Gore's museums during Geddes' tenure from 1983 to the present. The theoretical framework draws on leadership theory, particularly the work of Suchy and others, who theorise leadership as a social practice rather than a set of management techniques. Several qualitative research methods are employed including interviews with Geddes and key museum stakeholders coupled with a review of how the media have presented Geddes' work. This research data is then compared against leadership theory, noting the convergences and divergences. The dissertation is the first in-depth New Zealand study to test the application of contemporary leadership theory to one museum leader's practice. The findings reveal that, while Geddes is not a conscious leader, his practice has a striking similarity to the engaging transformational leadership model in terms of stakeholder engagement and the inter-personal and emotional elements of leadership. This research provides a deeper understanding of the career of a successful local museum director, suggesting that a sense of place can function as a mechanism for museum leaders to profitably engage with stakeholders. It also presents the argument that successful leadership is a practice, a mode of operating and interacting with others that if consistently applied can spark a series of positive events for museums and their leaders. After considering the implications of this case study for museum practice, training and professional development, the dissertation concludes with five recommendations to improve museum leadership development in New Zealand.