Leading from where & who you are

Let’s talk about courage about leadership and about the future that we can create together. 

Photo by    Mark Basarab    on    Unsplash

COURAGE.

Being courageous involves owning your own strengths as well as your vulnerabilities. Generosity in building connections that empower others, and also welcoming the support you need. Integrity and candour in being open in the face of uncertainty.

Uncertainty is one way of describing our state of play, now, as we stumble around tipping points for climatic, economic and social change. We do not have a roadmap to solve current global problems, and the systems and thinking that won us so much in the Anthropocene are inadequate in facing future challenges. But we humans do have courage, we have limitless creative capabilities and we do have each other.

With my littlest collaborator, learning to live on the land and build purposeful business in regional Australia, I’m navigating daily lessons in vulnerability and creative leadership! More on that story later…

With my littlest collaborator, learning to live on the land and build purposeful business in regional Australia, I’m navigating daily lessons in vulnerability and creative leadership! More on that story later…

Courage is a choice. Your leadership need not derive from a role you have or authority that you've been given. It means actually leading from where you are and who you are.

As Brene Brown points out so aptly in Dare to Lead

“Courage is contagious. To scale daring leadership and build courage in teams and organizations, we have to cultivate a culture in which brave work, tough conversations, and whole hearts are the expectation, and armor is not necessary or rewarded.”

CREATIVITY.

We all have a role in creating the future. We all have potential as creative leaders.

As you may know, I come from an arts and creative background, so this is familiar terrain, as is true for so many of you entrepreneurs. 

But I truly believe that creativity is essential in leadership today, indeed that we have a ‘duty of imagination’, as described by Alice Korngold arguing how boards and business can create impactful solutions to global problems. 

A still from my past art life, ‘You know then’, 2010, video and installation created with thanks to 943 Studio in Kunming.

A still from my past art life, ‘You know then’, 2010, video and installation created with thanks to 943 Studio in Kunming.

Let us harness our courage and audacity in creating solutions for problems, even though they are yet defying our best thinkers and our best efforts. With creative and collective ingenuity, and wholehearted respect even in difficult times, we can defy the systems as we know them.

It’s time to co-create solutions for challenges that have too long seemed insurmountable. To renew how we look after our world and ourselves, to be caretakers and to sustainably grow. These are not new discussions but they are more timely than ever. 

This year I have been deeply moved by how Greta Thunberg, the 16 year old Swedish activist, described the creative and existential imperative:

“Avoiding climate breakdown will require cathedral thinking. We must lay the foundation while we may not know exactly how to build the ceiling.” 

How powerful now to harness our all our skills - innovation, cultural, business, care, design, technology, agricultural, educational, dance, science, storytelling and infinitely many more - and create something much bigger than us and our own life spans.

How might we better value thinking differently, harnessing beauty, unlocking all the inner superpowers and wisdom we shy from, breaking rules and generating new possibilities? How may we better value us, and target our creative contribution and our responsibilities? 

Nobody is without the potential and their own gifts to be creative in this process.

BEYOND COMFORT.

Discomfort can be so necessary and valuable.

‘You know then’, artwork by Kathryn Gray, 2010, video still.

‘You know then’, artwork by Kathryn Gray, 2010, video still.

I’m not here to encourage anyone to hurt or delight in it. Suffering is part of life, and there are many wiser than me that help us live well and to heal.

Yet it is only by stepping beyond our comfort zones that we grow and we truly meet others. Learning to walk, developing a new skill, loving someone, doing that gutwrenchingly audacious act without being certain of outcomes. Letting go of what has worked so far and kept us feeling safe and successful.

Too often in our culture, growth is defined only by economic metrics and sold to us in terms of more convenience, ease and getting everything we desire. Money can be great, experiences and things too, and these can add up to powerful impact. But $, pleasure and things don’t make us happy in themselves, or indeed help with the discomfort that humans experience simply growing up. And indeed our comfortable lives are no longer sustainable on a global scale. 

Leaders need to deeply consider discomfort, inwardly and with people we work with. To recognise when what is comfortable is not useful, in the present and in proceeding forward. To model courage, creativity and compassion in creating safe spaces for shared growth. To together find new definitions of success, enable adaptation and empower others in the journey. Let’s lead productive discussions across disciplines and cultures, and be innovative in adapting our economy, our society, education and wellbeing, and how we relate to each other. 

This has been expressed recently by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, America’s youngest-ever congresswoman:

Leadership is a responsibility. Leadership is not fun. Leadership is about doing things before anybody else does them. Leadership is about taking risks. Leadership is about taking decisions when you don’t know 100% what the outcome is going to be.

‘And it’s the earth that moves’, 2011, artwork by Kathryn Gray starring John James, production still.

‘And it’s the earth that moves’, 2011, artwork by Kathryn Gray starring John James, production still.

This means difficult conversations and challenging decisions. Wrestling with uncertainties about things we may not feel comfortable with, where we may not have that level of knowledge or expertise or authority. Not only talking within our fave social media bubble of well-meaning people who think the same as us, but actually reaching out to engage with key decision makers, with influencers, with people who care and with those whose voices are rarely heard. 

We're all humans. 

So your story - your why, your sharing and listening - becomes so important. 

What is your story? How are you leading, stepping up and creating our future?

With you, I am inspired to lead and enable us to make positive impact.

I acknowledge challenges, suffering and dialectics in our history, present and indeed our future - but we have choice and the responsibility to act with purpose. 

Let's build the foundations for solutions we do not yet know possible, let's devote our wits and resources to cathedral thinking, as kids and communities today demand.

This blog post is based on a brief Live video I made in the wake of the Australian election - brief because I was outdoors running out of light and out of batteries and urgently aware of the importance of renewing our ideas and engagement with leadership and action. Thanks too to Carli Leimbach for the timely callout to #walkyourtalk - you can see other reflections and and contribute your own voice in action too. 



Kathryn Gray