Leadership (or how the Goose Girl became a Queen.)
I have been asked to lead a session on Leadership and Narrative at the 2017 BETT Conference in London. 'How do stories shape our futures? I will be working with a great Digital Education Company called Lin Education that is based in Sweden where I now live. I am also excited to chat with Angela Oguntala beforehand ( http://www.angelaoguntala.com) about foresight and how the future is shaped in the present. So, what stories are we telling ourselves now that will enable what we want, to unroll in front of us as a path into that dark and unknown forest of future?
So much of the story we inhabit and create is based on the personal and community narratives that coat the lenses of our perception. We are led believe certain facts are true yet the truth can be different depending on the culture and country. With regards to Leadership, the narrative we are now witnessing, is that it is better to divide and separate ourselves from others, to build walls, to leave larger organisations and be 'true to our unique values.' The phenomena of Brexit and Trump manifest this powerfully, so what have stories got to teach us about Leadership and how we can lead people, colleagues, our workforce into a better future that we, ourselves create.
I cannot think of any myth or legend where the hero or heroine achieve that which they want in their Kingdom totally alone. In Joseph Campbell's work on the Hero's journey, he states that it is only when the Hero lets go of the 'ego' and surrenders to his need for help, it is only when he becomes humble and realises that he alone is not enough, that his quest can be fulfilled. In the old myths and legends,the Hero often has to kill the 'helper,' at the end of their journey together and bury the bones or skin. (The Helper is usually resurrected as a human who had been bewitched.) Campbell puts forward the idea that this is a symbol of the Hero knowing that he is capable of great evil and only when one is conscious of this can one control it. In West African Tales, it is when the man or woman listens to the bird, helps the animal, is empathic to the needs of others, that they are helped.
In my experience, many leaders feel isolated and alone. Head Teachers, Managers, often resist being vulnerable in front of their peers, as they feel it is a sign of weakness. They also, after having made a decision, often feel obliged to stick with it, and follow it through, even when it becomes apparent it is the wrong decision.
I believe that by starting to explore Leadership patterns that exist within the old myths and legends, we will reap rich rewards. They offer us opportunities to dream of change and development, offer us different ways we can lead and be intelligent, Foolish Jack has all the attributes needed to be the King and the Goose Girl has all the skills to be a Queen. The ancient Grandmother in Kumasi has the wisdom that saves a stubborn King and she ends up ruling by his side. Using these tales one can start to identify what skills are necessary in effective and successful leadership.
However, we need to become aware that we can only dream based on what we can imagine. For many of us,we can imagine success, being a super-hero/ine, a King a Queen, because we can identify with the stories and images we have seen of these people. However, what happens if we cannot identify others like ourselves within these stories? When was the last time you saw a beauty advertisement that featured a person with a disability for instance? Non-representation and misrepresentation of people can inhibit the ability to imagine and dream. I remember working in Cairo and going to a children's book shop, there were no picture books that contained women who were veiled or who had their hair covered, it was all Disney Princesses. How then, can those children story a future for themselves whereby they can achieve anything just by being as they are, as opposed to being projected as 'other' to the 'norm?'
One of the great attributes of oral storytelling is that it allows the listener to imagine in their own beautiful, unique internal imagery. They will imagine themselves within the story, try on the clothes of King and Queen and Super Hero/ine and realise they fit perfectly. What a beautiful and powerful resource we have to play with.