The many steps to leadership (well, seven of Bobby Baker’s and five of mine)

A drawing of five geese flying in v formation, The front one has Bobby's head and is saying 'follow me'One of the things I’m most proud of in my professional career is co-founding Sync, a leadership programme looking at the interplay between leadership and disability funded by Arts Council England. It’s not simply about teaching disabled people in the creative field to be better leaders, it about engaging with the whole sector about what disabled leaders have to show and share which is resonant to all.

This week we shared a collection of seven new drawings by the amazing Bobby Baker, a performance artists known for her humorous and provocative work playing with food, feminist thought and, increasingly, mental health.

The slide show – featuring the drawings and Bobby’s own explanation of the pieces – was put on the web on Monday and has drawn much comment – so I wanted to share it here too.

I love the metaphor of ‘the journey’ towards leadership – and the fact that it might be long and winding. I’ve spent today thinking about what my key moments have been along the way. Here are my top five:

1. Speaking out loud

I can remember very clearly the point when I realized I liked to stand in front of an audience and have people watch me as I spoke. I was surprised at how many people hated it, whilst it gave me excitement and a sense of being alive. I mentioned it to my teacher, and suddenly found myself on the school’s Debating Team winning the Kent Cup for ‘Totalitarianism, the insidious disease’. (I also remember having to look up both totalitarianism and insidious in the dictionary).

2. Setting up Sync

Sync was a step into the unknown – and the first time I’ve said to a commissioner that I’m not sure what would happen, but I’d really like to try this… Being honest enough to admit not knowing something was a huge step for me, and very much rooted within the format of Sync, which is about acknowledging and sharing people’s skills and experiences. I love it and I’m always learning something new.

3. Learning to shut up

Having learnt to speak out, I then had to learn to shut up. Those around me now might still feel I have plenty to learn about this however and could do with more practice! The best advice I have ever been given is to listen fiercely. The concept of listening as an active act, not a passive one, has really stayed with me and proved extremely useful. You have to work hard to listen well.

4. Leading into new work

Recently, I’ve knocked on doors that I previously assumed were closed and stretched into new work, new partnerships and new ways of working. In the past I may have brought in a sense of ‘lesser than’ with me – that sense that others are always better, bigger, more. That’s going now as I feel more equal – with a stronger sense of what I bring to the table. The new partnership I am working on with Watershed, creating work for Arts Council England and BBC’s The Space is a great example of this. We’ve been filming this week, and whilst I know nothing about the technical aspects of filming, I know loads about what I want shot and why.

5. Realising I have something to say

My final ‘step’ is realising that I do have something to say, that this isn’t just self-indulgent rambling.  This blog is about many things for me – keeping a record and documenting my journey, publically owning my feelings and thoughts, playing with boundaries and new technology, learning… It does feel self-centred – its about reflecting on me so how could it not? But I am recognising that within the many reasons for writing, there is also benefit for others. When any of us speak honestly and openly in the world we can forge connections with others. These can be fleeting and momentary, and they can also be deeper and have impact. These connections can help us move – all of us – on our journey forwards. I’d like to thank a friend who helped me understand more about this earlier this week, by telling me about her reaction to some of what I write.

Thanks to Bobby Baker for the image and remember if you have enjoyed this and want to read more, you can subscribe to Jo Verrent’s blog by email.

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