Learning

Re-UP! And Lead from the Inside Out

At the moment, I’ve got a lot on. My task list is full of things I haven’t done before. One day these tasks will be commonplace, I’m sure,  but right now they feel like treacherous mountains that I’m ill-equipped to climb. Last week I alternated between worrying through sleepless nights then firing up countless spreadsheets determined that these jobs won’t get the best of me. I decided to force the tasks into submission throughout the weekend and planned a militaristic two days on the sofa with the laptop.

Saturday found me stabbing away at my keyboard and Sunday walking into rooms, forgetting what I had entered for. I felt feverish and overwrought so I slumped on the sofa and heard myself ask what if I didn’t today?  What if I was to just… stop? For the first time in what felt like a long time, my lungs filled  with air.

I pottered that Sunday, drank coffee in my PJ’s and browsed through my Elle Deco magazine. I called a long lost friend, cleared away the pigeon’s nests on my balcony and bought fresh plants from the garden centre. I filled my fridge with my favourite food and cooked slowly, chatting to another friend. Then after a tasty episode of Great British Menu, retired early with a new audiobook.

And so here I am on Monday morning sitting at my desk with exactly the same workload as I had last week but feeling refreshed and, critically, with perspective. Yes, this is new territory but I’ve been in new territory before and somehow have come out in one piece. No lives will be lost in the making of a few events after all. Well, mine might if I kept up the pressure of the previous week.   

Re-UP! Is The Space To Come’s new project and explores what a strategic restorative practice for leaders might look like. Re-Up is an old Black British saying meaning to restore and regain energy. Re-UP! will help cultural leaders steady themselves by preparing their whole selves, paying particular attention to their minds, bodies, care systems and creative souls.

This is clearly an area I need to explore and so am grateful to be doing so with our partners Clore Leadership, Arts Council POC Resilience Group, BFI Race Equality Network and Wellcome Collection. Whichever way you come at it, leading projects, people and ideas is a testing occupation let alone doing so through a pandemic with the world in dramatic flux. A catastrophe (whether real or imagined), leads us to overexert in an attempt to regain control and we are left  exhausted as a result.

This process can be intensified for those who exist as a minority in a workplace. The idea that we have to be three times as good means we can push ourselves three times as hard while carrying a workload three times as heavy (what with the additional educating, translating, code switching, environment transforming or simply trying to find common connection with colleagues whose lives are divergent to our own.) No wonder this leads to higher burnout rates and job turnovers.  

As I watered my plants that Sunday on my sunny balcony, little did I know that I was breaking a well-worn ancestral circuit. The anxiety drugs cortisol and adrenaline dissipated allowing the much gentler serotonin to wash through. By Monday I was finding simpler solutions to complex questions and drawing on the grace to ask for help where needed. 

Restorative practice  is more than a “treat-yo’self” self-care idea. It is a radical proposition that suggests an inside-out approach to leadership. In other words, we must first fit our oxygen masks to ensure that our ideas, people and communities are better oxygenated.

The Re-UP! Programme will begin in earnest in Autumn 2022 and  is creatively structured around three half-day sessions that will explore the building blocks of a restorative practice. Firstly, care. Finally we can add the word to our leadership lexicon – care for self, our teams, audiences and communities as well as care for the environment. We will explore how we might best care for all of the above, starting and ending with the self. Next we will explore how important our mindsets are to how we experience the world, ourselves and each other. We will explore ways to practice flexibility, agility and expansiveness as the world shift about us. As we move into next Spring, we will actively contemplate how to grow more aware of our bodies in order to better manage our chemical balance and stress levels. The sessions will combine The Space To Come’s tested convening spaces, “Reasoning sessions” or open-space style conversations, workshops with more embodied activities and creative practices that will help us remember why we began this journey in the first place.  The sessions will be stitched together by Kinship Circles where leaders can co-create the all-important peer support space.

Re-UP!’s ultimate end game is to help us devise a restorative plan for ourselves, our people, our projects and the world.  What lung-filling activities might we schedule? What do we need to keep ourselves healthy along the way? Where will we catch a breath? What are our collective celebration and commiseration rituals? How can we help to restore our fellow journeyers and the environment along the way?

In many ways the pandemic taught us where excess productivity without considered care leads. The world was forced to pause. Might a regular restorative practice help us to reboot in a more sustainable way? We need to try something new don’t we?

 

Re-UP! forms part of Clore Leadership’s Brilliant Routes programme and will kick off with a live launch on 13 May, 7-10pm at the Wellcome Collection. You can get read more about the programme and sign up to the free event via our Brilliant Routes page.