The Cultural Leadership Programme offers a varied and bespoke approach to leadership development including; work based and intensive leadership development opportunities, networks, mentoring, coaching and online resources. This person-centred approach impacts one individual at a time, to achieve the critical mass need to nurture world class, dynamic and diverse leaders for the 21st Century and create a culture of strong leadership for the cultural and creative industries.
Jo Verrent, who has been a participant on ‘Leadership Development Days’ programme and is working with the Cultural Leadership Programme to deliver Sync 100 and Sync 20 reveals a personal insight into the impact of her leadership development work on her identity and leadership capabilities.
Over the last 18 months I have been working on a programme called Sync, designed to explore the interface between leadership and disability. Interesting words those – both ‘leadership’ and ‘disability’. Enough to make many of us reach for the headache pills.
Sync has been developed by myself, Sarah Pickthall and Mark Wright of People Create, and has truly been the most stretching and challenging thing I have ever worked on, throwing my ideas of who I am and what I do up in the air on a regular basis.
At the beginning of the process, I was a disabled freelancer specialising in disability/diversity related training and consultancy within the arts sector. At the end of the initial programme, I’m definitely something different.
So what has changed?
The first is my sense of identity. I started to loose my hearing at the age of 12, gaining hearing aids at the same time as acne. I was the kind of teenager that craved difference, and my hearing aids gave me a sense of uniqueness. When the hospital recommended I grow my hair to hide my aids, my response was to shave my head so the world could see them better. Although I went to a mainstream school and college to do my degree, my dissertation and post graduate study was in Theatre of the Deaf, and since then I have worked fairly exclusively in the disability arena.
Sync made me question why that was. Was it just that this was the work that had come my way? Was it because I liked the limitations – a big fish in a small pond? Did it feed my desire to fight for justice? Was it because only other disabled people would see my potential? Was it because it was safe and comfortable for me there? Sync made me also consider other, more uncomfortable options too such as had I, on some level, believed the myths pushing the equation ‘disabled = less capable’ and did I not think I could do anything else?
One of the things Sync established from the start was that it was for all disabled people interested in leadership, not just those from one political persuasion. This meant that to fully engage I had to open my mind to people who thought differently to me. And this included people who had a different relation to their impairment. Over the course of the last 18 months I’ve stopped arrogantly thinking “well, I’m right and they’re wrong”, and instead come to hold a more complex position, where there are many right (and many wrong) relationships.
Yes, I am still a disabled person and still happy to describe myself as such. For me the change is that I don’t feel I have to shout it out all the time. Its one part of me; it doesn’t have to be the only way I define myself, the only thing I do or the only part of me that gives me my uniqueness.
The other thing that has changed is my confidence around the word ‘leader’. I. Can. Lead. I don’t need to run a huge organisation to do this. I don’t have to be an autocrat or tyrant. I can lead by example, I can lead through the work I choose to do and the influence I have through my relations with others. I can lead by following my values and ensure that everything I do is underpinned by them. And I don’t have to lead all the time. I can follow others. I can also rest, reflect and observe.
Do I think being a ‘disabled leader’ is significant? Is it any more important that being a ‘female leader’, a ‘leader with children’, a ‘self employed leader’ or a ‘leader who happens to enjoy keeping chickens’ or any other facet of me?
Actually, yes. Being a disabled leader has additional challenges in a society where disabled people are seen as either ‘inferior’, other’ or ‘exotic’. You are continually confounding expectations, which can be tiring at times. It gives a greater sense of responsibility, the need to embrace being a role model if others choose to see you in that way. And, for me, it brings a new way of leading to the fore. I manage my access needs and I know that what works for many people will not work for me. I can bring that understanding into my working practice, breeding tolerance and respect for difference.
The Next Phase
Please don’t get me wrong. I’ve not got all the answers yet. I’ve not even got to the end of my list of questions. But I am so enjoying the journey. And being part of Sync means that my journey is only one of many. We’re revamping our website soon to profile some of the reflections of our many members. Their journeys will probably set me off again, challenging my thinking behind what I have written here and making me think afresh.
Bring it on. After all, if I’m not just a disability arts trainer and consultant, I’ve got to work out what I am!
Jo Verrent was interviewed by Stephanie Haughton-Campbell, Independent Creative Consultant.
"One of the things Sync established from the start was that it was for all disabled people interested in leadership, not just those from one political persuasion. This meant that to fully engage I had to open my mind to people who thought differently to me. "