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Leaving Leadership

An opportunity can stop being an opportunity, and it's important to know when to go. Leadership programming, nurturing young leaders, and supporting their journey is complicated. One leadership course I partook in had participants from 12 countries, with 11,000 applications from all around the world.

One of the activities I joined was a policy incubator in Mexico City [all expenses paid] to take part in a workshop on discourse and narratives around migration, with the opportunity to win a section of £16,000 of seed funding to run a social action project.


Sounds like a young leader’s dream. So, why in the hell would I buy my own flights back from Mexico City to Aberdeen City after 36 hours?


One thing, I have mentioned in previous leadership blogs is how social currency and emotional intelligence amongst young people today has changed the leadership game as the emotional labour done by young people all around the world begins to provide tangible outcomes in leadership initiatives.


Poverty, criminal experiences, abuse, and overcoming societal barriers become tools in building effective leaders. Looking to the future and engaging with the design of a global community, the negative experiences of communities, individuals, and organisations are valuable. The tears, trauma, and upset of people is power, and it is often freely given by people all around the world who provide emotional labour as learning experiences for other people.

Sharing and receiving, for those of us who are blessed enough, can come from a place of solidarity and support which is important. Many stories have changed my life, perspective, and attitude and they were freely given and at the core of this is respect, reciprocity, and love. It means respecting spaces, people, and experience. It does not mean that 'valuable lessons’ can be taken from people.


With this in mind, let me explain why I left Mexico City and flew myself home. It stemmed from a group Roleplay where participants were assigned a character to take part in a press-conference scenario on the ‘managed removal’ / deportation of 500,000 migrants. Roles included pro- and anti- activists, media (gossip, political, and civil), political representatives, and citizens.


There came a point when members of the group asked for the Roleplay to be stopped; it was clear that for members of the group, the experience was not actually a Roleplay and was part of their lived experience. From my perspective, there were two parts to the Roleplay that presented issues; 1) the active blurring of a line between Roleplay and reality, and 2) the response from the facilitators which was, in my opinion, insufficient.


When participants called for the Roleplay to end, I understood from the discussion following the Roleplay that a contextually provocative extraction of highly personal experience without sufficient warning, without boundaries, surrounded by a substantial proportion of strangers, and in the presence of a participant who subsequently made suggestions about the introduction of ‘unsafe spaces’ is not an appropriate, productive, or respectful approach.


It was not clear to me that the Facilitators understood that creating ‘a valuable experience’ from the tears, trauma, and upset of other participants who are expected to put in disproportionate amounts of emotional labour was problematic. It appeared to me that this approach perhaps was not reflective of the values of the organisers and/or their commitment to creating and connecting leaders of the future. And it was surprising to me that there was not a more active understanding of the issues that were being raised by participants.


An opportunity can stop being an opportunity, and it's important to know when to go.


To me, there wasn’t a clear understanding of what was problematic with the Roleplay or a response that demonstrated that this was understood. It’s not the type of programming that supports, and that was why I left.


*It’s worth noting that the organisation has had follow-up conversations and the message in this blog was received and understood; they followed up to understand why I left and refunded the cost of the plane ticket.

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