BFTA’s VP, Aida Aydinyan on Leadership and her Acceptance into the Banff Cultural Leadership Program


I am beyond thrilled and grateful to be part of the first cohort of Banff Centre’s new Cultural Leadership program. This new program addresses an important sectoral issue of leadership development. It is wonderful to see a structured and strategic approach to the program as there is a huge disconnect between the reality of the sectoral need to develop local leaders for transition and the actual ability of the sector overall to address this need.

It is not a secret that in general, we allocate a small percentage of resources to leadership development or infrastructure support and instead focus the bulk of our resources on programs and services. For this exact reason, we shouldn’t be surprised at the idiosyncratic nature of how cultural leaders frequently come to take on leadership roles in our organizations.

The private sector views leadership as a source of competitive advantage, an asset, and is investing in its development accordingly. Whereas in our sector, it is not actively cultivated and mostly happens by accident, luck and/or personal persistence.

I consider it a privilege and a big responsibility to be part of the first year of the program. Our cohort is comprised of 18 cultural leaders who either currently have formal leadership roles or are being prepared to occupy such positions. To my delight, the overwhelming majority of the participants were women. Why is this important? Although women lead the majority of nonprofits, they more often head smaller organizations both in terms of staff and budget or are positioned in mid-management roles at large cultural institutions.

My seventeen brilliant and diverse colleagues came from Whitehorse, Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Banff, Lethbridge, Regina, Winnipeg, Toronto, Hamilton, Fredericton and one international participant from Dundee, Scotland. The program was delivered with the help of local and international facilitators, who both inspired and challenged us for five days.

The first session that I attended in November focused on “leadership of self” – looking inward to articulate your personal leadership philosophy or belief system, then situating one’s self in interactions with others.

What is particularly notable about this program is that the logical sequence of the modules is designed like a “Russian Doll” – contextualizing leadership in the context of self, then in the context of the organization, communities, networks, systems, sector, etc.

The proposition here is that you must have a capacity to lead yourself before you can lead others, lead organizations, and lead externally in networks and communities.

As part of our coursework, we were instructed to write our personal leadership commitments. These are mine:

  • I promise to continue leading horizontally and laterally rather than vertically and hieratically, today and every day;
  • I promise to build on my strengths and strive to complement my weaknesses with strengths of others, today and every day;
  • I promise to continue having people at the core of what I do, today and every day;
  • I promise to continue supporting, awakening, nurturing and cherishing my colleagues’ leadership potential and building leaderful organizations, today and every day;
  • I promise to continue my journey in life as a mission, not as a career, today and always.