Leading through possibility part 1: reframing leadership

In the first of this two-part series, Minnie considers why we must start looking in different places for the leadership needed to take our world into a more innovative, equitable 21st century.

Text of a Margaret Wheatly quote on a dark blue background. The quote reads: "We are, always, exploring possibilities of meaning in a world which is also all the time exploring possibilities.”

Leadership and leaders show up in the world in many and varied forms. At their best leaders can usher in waves of new and powerful ways of being in the world that bring out the best in human beings, or they can choose to reinforce fear-based and limiting belief structures under the guise of providing a steady and powerful hand.

Right now, here in Aotearoa we have the caring, compassionate and humane leadership of our Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. And in stark contrast we are inflicted daily by the ego-filled conventional power and control forms of “leadership” of the US President Donald Trump.

As the world as we know it starts to crumble and fall apart, our health system falter, our economy unravel, and our society start to question all that we thought to be true,  it is essential that we ask ourselves what type of leadership is available and is actually needed for such turbulent and uncertain times.

Reframing conventional notions of leadership

There are two writers on leadership that inform much of our work at the Global Centre of Possibility and the Be. Lab. These are Peter Block and Margaret Wheatley.

The former talks about leadership as the power of putting together two things that have never been put together before in order to create something entirely new in the world.

The latter talks about leadership as being what happens when we see something that needs addressing –something we can no longer un-see, and are called to take action on it. Whether this is putting an end to social injustice, the opportunity to create something generative and of beauty in the world, or to call out something truly unacceptable going on.

These days, Margaret Wheatley also talks about the need for leaders to embody certain key qualities – gentleness, decency and bravery – that we rarely, if ever, see celebrated let alone played out on the global political stage, yet are the very best of what makes us human. Through this lens, leadership can be viewed as a deeply human act.

Who is leadership available to?

Through these frames, leadership is available to everyone – not just the powerful and elite. Through these lenses, leadership is available to all human beings and is richly available within all aspects of our society and communities. The opportunity is to know it when we see it, to value it and to support its fruition.

Leadership from the margins

Margaret Wheatley also talks about how we continue to look for leadership in all the wrong places, therefore reinforcing old paradigms that no longer serve us or our society and overlooking those who actually do have something new, or of incredible value to contribute to the world.

Possibility leadership

At the Global Centre of Possibility and the Be. Lab, we have defined Possibility Leadership as “the capacity to believe in and create a future of possibility, beyond current limiting paradigms and beyond current concepts of disability and accessibility.”

I deeply believe that this lens of leadership has something truly valuable to contribute to all of us, beyond just the work of accessibility. What could this framework offer to New Zealand during this time of change and uncertainty?

Certainly if ever there were a group of people who are hugely skilled in navigating ambiguity it is the access community. Having to problem solve on a daily basis due to a lack of access to products and services – and developing resilience in the face of a lack of the resources needed to flourish – is what makes this community a unique and invaluable part of our society.

Perhaps it is time we paid attention to this group of people and started looking for leadership in the right places? What could the access community, the Possibility community, bring to Aotearoa as we navigate this tumultuous time together?

Acknowledging Possibility leaders

I am fortunate to be surrounded by role models of Possibility leadership, not least of all being the incredible team at the Be. Lab and the Centre of Possibility that I get to work alongside every single day! I want to acknowledge a few people in particular who have contributed to this framing of Possibility leadership that we have developed today.

Thank you to Lesley Slade, our Be. Leadership Director, for teaching me about what leadership is and what it is not, for introducing me to incredible thinkers and writers like Peter Block and Margaret Wheatley, and for her steep unwavering faith in what is Possible in the world!

Thank you to Dame Tariana Turia who saw something in the Be. vision back in 2010 and ensured we had the funding to set up Be. Accessible and laid the foundations for Be. Lab and the Global Centre of Possibility @ AUT.

Thank you to John Allen – Chair of Be. Accessible, Be. Lab and now the Global Centre of Possibility @ AUT – for his unwavering support, constant enthusiasm, and trust in my vision. But also for his great sense of humour! I do not know of many Boards where laughter and joy are a constant around the table even in the most trying times. You are the embodiment of Possibility leadership – believing in something beyond current limiting paradigms and beyond conventional notions of disability and accessibility!!

In Part two of this series, I reflect in particular on the past ten years of working alongside John, and our unique Chair-CEO partnership. Over that time I have been able to truly witness what brave, Possibility leadership looks like and distil this into five unique traits that perhaps, we can all embody?

Read Part two here.


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