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Focus on Leadership: Adi Diner

Sep 22, 2015

In 2015, Adi Diner took part in the Australia Council’s Emerging Leaders Development Program. With a wealth of behind the scenes and senior leadership roles in arts organisations, Adi shares his thoughts on the Emerging Leaders Development Program and cultural leadership.

What did you learn from the 2015 Emerging Leadership Development Program?

It was a truly eye-opening experience. Being given the time and tools to critically reflect on the organisations for whom we work, as well as  the types of leaders we are and strive to be was invaluable.

I learnt a lot about myself – not just what my strengths are, because I already knew that. But learning the type of environment I need to thrive and the type of work I prefer– both of which were vastly different than I had anticipated – was such a unique opportunity. And honestly, I was humbled by the intelligence, skills and tenacity of the other people in the room. Given that this was the fifth iteration of the program, it clearly demonstrated the depth of talent in the Australian arts sector.

What do you see as ‘cultural leadership’?

For me, cultural leadership is more than just leading the cultural sector. It’s about having culture lead society as opposed to merely reflecting it. Exploring the complexity of the human experience and the diversity of our stories, and exploring these issues critically are central to not only artistic pursuits, but also to being engaged citizens. Too often, ideas are presented as black and white. And the world is much greyer than that. Culture should be a tool that everyone uses to mine that. And in so doing, artists and cultural organisations then became the gatekeepers. Leading by example. Whether it’s what stories we choose to tell, how we run our companies or what we communicate to our current and potential audiences, we should be leading by example, and presenting all sides of the coin – as difficult as that sometimes is.

What traits should a cultural leader have?

A great cultural leader must be collaborative, to seek out the stories and opinions of as many voices as possible – not just the loudest, or the quietest, or those in close proximity, or those that are in agreement. Embracing complexity, and providing a clear vision of how to navigate the unknown with the knowledge and tools at our disposal are key to success.  And this has been demonstrated time and time again – from organisations that have been at the brink of extinction only to remerge as sector leaders to the recent prime ministerial leadership change.

What advice would you give your past self or someone else about leading others?

Be quiet, listen more, and ask more questions.

What other leaders do you admire?


  • Sue Giles and Simon Abrahams. I regularly look back on my time as General Manager of Polyglot Theatre, where I worked under their leadership, and constantly draw on the lessons they taught me about successfully navigating an organisation through a period of immense change.
  • Andrew Walsh. I’m still pinching myself that I had the opportunity to work for the Executive Producer of the opening/closing ceremonies for the Athens Olympics. Working closely with him on White Night Melbourne 2014 and 2015, I learnt a great deal, specifically about managing challenging stakeholders and how to build and supervise teams of contract staff.
  • Seth Godin. I receive a daily email with his blog post – which I highly recommend. A marketing wunderkind and prodigious author, I find him truly insightful, because he comes from a principled place of generosity and respect.


Are there any online resources that you turn to, or have drawn leadership inspiration from, that you’re willing to share? 

On recommendation from Ann Tonks, former Executive Producer of MTC and all-round arts management guru, I subscribed to the Harvard Business Review , which I read monthly – religiously. Even if you choose not to spend the money for the annual subscription to the magazine, they have a lot of free online content, which is also great.

Adi Diner has always loved music and has worked professionally in the arts behind-the-scenes in a multitude of capacities – as a producer, general manager, director, stage manager, musician, marketing consultant, production manager, strategic planner, educator, and policy advisor.  Adi has held senior leadership roles at Melbourne International Jazz Festival, Polyglot Theatre and White Night Melbourne, and has recently moved to New York to see he can “make it there”.

The 2015 Emerging Leaders Development Program participants undertook an intensive five day residential workshop in April. This is followed by an ongoing period of mentoring and coaching with respected senior executives that continue over the year.

The Emerging Leaders Development Program commenced in 2011 and is in its fifth year.