Unlearning Leadership (Introduction)
In the summer of 2021, I, like many others, sat inside the collective grief and isolation of the pandemic and took more time to be with myself, to be still. In that stillness, I found that a personal desire to travel to the continent of Africa was growing. I felt a pull that was also echoed by a movement of other disaporian pan-Africans who were exploring the possibilities of living in Africa and reclaiming or revaluing the Continent. Many second generation Africans like myself had been psychologically and geographically separated from Africa and fed mostly negative and biassed views of the Continent. I had been inspired by the many Africans looking to return. Looking to be part of the rising of Africa, an Africa paving its own way towards the future.
At the same time in my work life, I had been in leadership for some time at Healing Justice Ldn, and I was inspired to dive more deeply into exploring what this thing called leadership is and why I had so much discomfort with this title. I was working together with other leaders and witnessing the struggles that people were experiencing around leadership in many parts of their life. I was curious about how we can really recreate leadership in a way that invites and supports the many people who have vision and insight but often shy away from leadership due to fear and a sense that it’s not really for them.
I was alive to questions such as; how might we re-conceptualise our models of leadership, how might we challenge hegemonic ideals about leadership and power. I wondered about how capitalist narratives of scarcity, expertise and domination created limited visions of leadership that both negatively impacts the ways we lead and how we ‘follow’ leaders. I wanted to explore how we can evolve our understandings about leadership beyond the often tough and isolating images I had of leadership. I was interested in reflecting on the particular challenges for people who have had personal experience of marginalisation and find themselves in leadership roles. I was deeply interested in examining the ways that I and others still held colonial and patriarchal views of what it means to be a good leader in social change work. As someone who has chronic health issues which have been exacerbated by the stress and anxiety I feel around leadership and work in general, I was keen to think creatively about how burnout and grind cultures could be transformed. I wanted to explore if leadership and work could be more resourcing, joyfilled and connected.
I felt a pull to travel out of my conditions and contexts of the UK, to Africa, while at the same time I felt a pull inwards, towards self-reflection, self-healing and building relationships with other leaders. I took a leap of faith away from the ‘scientific’ and objective ways of exploration that are central to the psychological field from which I had been trained, into a more organic, embodied and personal learning as a way of generating a different kind of knowledge. I believe that finding radically different ways of living leadership and of doing work towards a more just world sometimes requires radical approaches and radical changes to our well worn ways of operating.
I went on a personal journey but it was also a very collective journey. A journey inspired by a desire to make leadership a joyful wholehearted and connected experience for all of us that are called into leadership and into visioning alternative futures. I hope that in my very personal journey, others may also be inspired to travel, not necessarily physically but also to new mental and emotional lands of possibility. I believe that to really transform our movements we need to model, practice and experiment with ways of working that help us envision alternative futures. To achieve this, we may need to leave the lands of our old ways of being and journey towards new ways of seeing, new ways of caring for ourselves and each other.
Taking this leap was not easy and the journey required a hell of a lot of courage, faith and logistics. Yet on August the 11th 2021, I boarded a plane to Johannesburg, South Africa, with my family: my partner and our 3 year old daughter. The plan was to travel around South Africa and work while also homeschooling/unschooling our daughter. I had already done some research about the different provinces in South Africa and found projects around the country that in my mind were doing interesting, out-of-the-box work. Many of these projects touched on colonialism, sustainability, black consciousness, healing and spirituality. I was inspired to explore the worlds and visions that the leaders behind this work were developing.
When I began writing these blogs I was confronted with the impossible task of taking a long and nonlinear reflective process and finding a way to communicate this journey to a wider public. I was also aware that so much of what I was exploring in this work is really about future thinking. I claim the word ‘dreamer’ as one that I cherish. I love to dream, to fantasise, to live into a more holistic, compassionate and just world. I was inspired by the work of Bayo Akomolafe, another psychologist who has journeyed off the beaten pathway in his work, and his book These Wilds Beyond Our Fences: Letters to My Daughter on Humanity’s Search for Home, and the book Daughter Drink This Water by the social worker Jaiya John. Both of these books are written as messages to both the literal and figurative daughter. It felt right that I also, in this tradition, write these blogs to my daughter and the daughters of the future world that I dream of, the world that I am trying to live into.