This 3-minute video on how to start a movement is one of my all time favourites: a crazy dude at an outdoor concert, shameless and shirtless, surrendering to his impulse to dance in the way he was called to dance.
That was me, exactly 6 years ago today, a lone nut with this idea that leadership development needed to be turned on its head. I sat alone in the empty office and pushed the live button for the first version of the Play Contemporary Leadership CoLab website. About six weeks later, the first 27 people had signed up for one of four pilot programmes which were research vehicles to examine what type of module and group formulation had the biggest impact. We were away.
Play CoLab was to be not just an inquiry into contemporary leadership but an experiment in collaboration. But what is collaboration? What does it take? What I know now is this: it just takes one committed collaborator, who is pulled by vision rather than driven by money, to kickstart a movement. So it was when Jenny Devine became the second crazy dancing dude in the video, or the ‘first follower who committed to put it all on the line for the cause’, that we really got momentum.
Jenny is an integrative coach and shadow practitioner, whom I had met a couple of years previously. I put her Shadow Process workshop into a year long programme I was running, and it ended up being rated the most impactful workshop. It was deep, challenging and definitely unusual for leadership development which was and still often is, colouring inside the lines. But it went to the heart of the age old leadership problem - ego - in a hardhitting yet compassionate way. If Play CoLab was to have real impact, why not start leadership courses by going after the ego?
When I look back, my own ego was still worried about what people might think about shadow work - would it be seen as a bit woo-woo for leaders, like the two of us doing a crazy dance on a hillside? Six years and over 40 groups and around 350 people later, I think that phrase woo-woo has only been used once. It is once again, the module that mostly has the biggest impact.
Once upon a time I was a strategist but the last thing I have ever wanted to do is write a strategic plan for Play CoLab. It is not a business - it’s a practice of contemporary leadership. By its very nature, a definitive strategy is developed from whatever stage of adult development the author is at. Hence strategy is inadvertently limiting. Our intention is to grow the conscious awareness and maturity of leaders including ourselves. If this intention comes from a place of deep integrity, the practice itself will lead us.
Indeed the real work of Play CoLab has continued to reveal itself. It sits at the heart of systems - internal human systems, organisational systems and societal systems. It has allowed us to leverage my background as a researcher, and that of collaborator Dr Jane Horan, a cultural anthropologist, to study leadership cultures of organisations as systems. Climate change apathy, political infighting, war, workplace bullying, even ‘fake news’... it’s all about polarisation on some level. If it's systemic transformation we want, it is only possible if leaders are prepared to work on their own personal transformation.
Play CoLab is a word of mouth, client and alumni-recommended practice. Maybe that is my excuse for apathetic marketing but whatever it is, we thank all our clients and course alumni for their support over last six years. And special thanks to our wonderful Operations Manager Jenna Wee who pulls it all together, Yolande Dewey who always makes herself available for pastoral care of past and present participants and our dearest friend Precious Clark for championing our mahi. For the rest, please ask yourself: if you want a better organisation or better world: are you a lone wolf, first follower, part of the enthusiastic crowd or a fearful onlooker? Sandy