What is Cultural Leadership?
Support for cultural leadership today is as much about providing know-how to new and emerging cultural leaders, as it is about developing the relationships leaders need to progress in their careers, via the creation of professional networks, mentoring programmes and collaborative projects. British Council Creative Economy
Cultural Leadership is often confused as something that only emerging leaders and those in entry level or mid career positions undertake. It is confused with assuming its for professionals that want to climb up the career ladder and become managers and CEOs. It is so much more than that and I have been lucky enough to be part of two fantastic programmes in the UK.
The best leadership programmes allow you to own your journey and path. All sectors require good managers and visionaries to challenge their thinking and ways of working. Leadership is not something that you do for a month on a course but is a life long journey that is not solely about your working professional life. It will encourage you to think about your health, family, passions, dreams, spirituality (in my case) and so much more, as these things are all connected. When each of these areas are working well for us we are fully effective happy individuals.
In 2008 I participated in the Powerbrokers International Leadership Programme funded by Arts Council England and it included a placement in Beijing. Prior to this I attended some workshops in London about understanding and using my strengths, read many self-development books and took some lessons in Mandarin. I was in for a real culture shock once I arrived in China and the time away from everything I knew here in England away from friends and family was the best thing that could have happened to me at that point. At the end of 2006 my father died, less than a year later I married my partner of 9 years, and 5 months later we broke up. It wasn’t until I was in China that all of the grief and pain I had bottled up started to come out. I was all alone.
I’m not suggesting that leadership programmes need to take us to the other side of the world. But one place they do take us is deep inside ourselves. This leadership placement gave me the headspace to prioritise my aspirations for my life for the next 4 years. On new year’s day in 2009 I wrote in my notebook that I was going to spend a year travelling the world to include finally seeing where my parents grew up in India, live in Melbourne for 12 months and work in the arts, and complete an MSc programme on a subject that would give me a deeper insight into global interactions and inequalities. And that is exactly what I did. I had the budget, time and drive to succeed. I wanted to invest my time and money into my wishes and development. These are not all tied to making an income and following a specific path. For me life is all about learning and growing throughout the journey, I want to enjoy every day, not just wait until I reach the end of a goal to celebrate. All of the experience we have enable us to become better and more interesting leaders, its not just about all the contracts we secure and jobs we have, but all of the adventures and challenges we face in life that make us who we are. This is what makes inspirational leaders.
For two years after achieving these goals I found myself a little unsure of what to do next as I was no longer just an arts manager like I had been happily in my 20s. What unfolded was the beginnings of a portfolio career. I spent my time in London, Lisbon and around India doing culture and development projects I enjoy, meeting new people, and gaining clarity on how to move forward with all of my new found knowledge and experiences. Looking back I realise the leadership and life journey is not straight forward, will come with ups and downs, and as as time goes by all of the dots will join up. So what if some of my friends and people my age have marriages, kids and mortgages. If I put my hand on my heart this in not even what gets my pulse racing or what I crave for right now. I’ve always strived to live a life of passion and authenticity so if this means taking the long way round to get where I need to then so be it. Life is not a race. Not every journey is supposed to be the same and that is why I love to travel so much as it is then that I meet the most innovative and creative leaders of their own lives that inspire me.
In September 2015 I found myself back in Birmingham, the city I left in 2008. I was selected to take part in RE:Present: Transforming the Diversity of Cultural Leadership, a development programme, which included training, mentoring and different lectures by influential opinion leaders. Re:Present is delivered by Helga Henry (Creative Shift) and Lara Ratnaraja, funded by Birmingham City Council and Arts Council England. I knew this would be a great journey for me and it was. The range of presentations, speakers, training and meeting the other participants on the programme was exceptional and could not be better timed for myself. I also had two mentors on the programme, a consultant working internationally in culture and the creative economy, and another working on interdisciplinary programmes in partnership with academic institutions and partners across Europe.
My participation on the programme is almost complete but the journey continues. I have found more clarity in my vision and know where I want to go, but I also know that my ambitions are complex and not achievable overnight. This leadership programme has given me the time and space to reflect on where I have been and where I want to be in a safe space amongst some amazing individuals. It has helped me to start drowning out my inner voices of self-doubt, and particularly the voices of peers and society placing their judgments, fears and expectations onto me, that really don’t matter in the end at all. I look forward to bringing my goals to life which indeed may change and evolve as time goes by. In my opinion exceptional leaders are not defined solely by their achievements and high moments, but how they respond to adversity whilst being able to remain humble, not compromising their integrity, and being responsible citizens of the world.