Moore CEO advice: Cracking the toughest nut

Cecelia Fitzgibbon, president of Moore College of Art & Design, had just hit age 30 when she landed the kind of position that usually goes to people much more senior. Fitzgibbon became executive director of the Delaware  Division of the Arts and every single person on her staff was older than she was, she told me during our Leadership Agenda interview published in Monday's Philadelphia Inquirer.

On Saturday, Moore held its second annual Leadership Conference for Women in the Arts for female art college students and the lessons Fitzgibbon, now 60, gained from her experience in Delaware would certainly have resonated with them.

Question: What's a lesson you learned when moving into that job?

Answer: Pick the most difficult person -- the person you think you are going to have the hardest time with -- and get them on your side.

Q: Elaborate, please.

A:  I walked in. Everybody was older than me. Most people were happy that I was there. My predecessor was an Army kid and ran the place like an Army camp, and, of course, that's not my style. So I was working my big Irish charm, but one person was not receiving the charm.

Q: Then what?

A: That person was also the accountant and was also married to a political person with high connections in Delaware. I thought, `She is the one I need to get to. Once I get to her, everything else will fall into place.'

Q: What was your technique?

A: She exercised during lunch and I said to her, `Can I come with you to exercise during lunch?' She said, `Sure.'

Q: Do you even like to exercise?

A: Sure. But I let her guide me. We walked to the gym. We worked out. We came back and that let us have a different opening to a relationship.

Q: A lot of new executives just go in and clean house.

A: I disagree with coming in and sweeping out and cleaning house. When you walk into an organization, there are people who are already working there -- many of whom have given their lives to the institution. I think there are many people who have a lot to give, even those who are somewhat tough. Assessing their capacity to give is really important. Then you look for the toughest nut to crack and go after it.