Exploring Leadership with Eurostar

Change is a slow and unpredictable thing. Lately I have been paying attention to how others are leading in Global Generation. As Donna Ladkin describes “leadership is a phenomenon, an art we can enact and explore together and support each other to do better”, writes Jane Riddiford.

As I was about to leave the Kings Cross Skip Garden I looked out of the office door, there was Silvia introducing a group of our twilight gardeners to the idea of finding silence in the heart of London.

It was great to see and brought light the end of what had been long and challenging day for me. A break-in to the Skip Garden on the previous night, meant my day was punctuated by meetings with police officers and the authorisation of bolts, padlock and keys.

I texted Silvia that night, “You made my day I just heard your beautiful closure to the session, well done. I felt beauty in your expression of leadership.” She wrote back, “I was just carrying on the spirit created yesterday at the workshop for Eurostar, Let’s cheer for beauty!”

Silvia was referring to the Leadership for Sustainability Day we had run for twelve members of the High Potential team from Eurostar, one of our Kings Cross local partners.

At the beginning of the day I posed three questions, What is leadership for? What are the conditions for supporting leadership? How might engagement in the natural world and the local community inform our leadership? In the course of the morning, like the Twilight Gardeners the Eurostar group also threaded silently through the Skip Garden and spent time in our long 20 metre poly-tunnel.

Each person selected a quote that connected with the leadership values they felt were important and aspired to develop in themselves. The quotes were drawn from each other’s writing, young people’s writing and writing from some of my favourite philosophers and leadership scholars.

This somewhat ritualised act was the beginning of weaving themselves and their ideas into the garden and it seemed the spirit of the garden wove itself into each of them. The activity was an invitation for participants to find values that spoke to them of what they felt was important in leadership. It was heartening how many of them chose quotes that related to story.

Imagine two countries – one is called Datastan, a world in which everything that counts can be counted; the other, The republic of Stories, a world in which everything carries a story and all the stories matter.
— Arlene Goldbard

Goldbard’s invitation segued naturally into the next activity, which focussed on what we can learn from the natural world.

Paul, our gardens manager, explained more about the intricate story of bio-diversity, before the four teams went to build, plant, write and enact leadership through the creation of a living story, a story that spoke to social and environmental responsibility, a story that was engaging, educational and practical.

Each of the teams looked in the corners of the garden, finding the loved and left behind ... pipes, plants and woven baskets.

By the end of the day four ‘living stories’ sat in our circle. Each of the groups also told their stories in mythic proportions. We heard about spaces to dream, communities of connection, opportunities created. We also heard how the participants who were part of a year-long leadership course, had never worked so well together as on this occasion, how there was no one leader amongst them. They had experienced flow and a simple dissemination of tasks, be it drilling or planting or writing.

We all felt the day had been successful; Silvia’s comment in the closing circle caught my interest. She pointed out that everything that had been created had elegance about it. The four living stories, all in one way or another were simple and beautiful. They combined water and insects, plants and compost, play and practicality. They told a connected story.

In true Global Generation style, we closed with time for free fall writing

My experience today was one that was very different to anything I have done before. Being outside, working with colleagues, I haven’t worked with before, learning about nature and the circle of life, bringing leadership qualities to life outside of the workplace. I’ve taken time to reflect, think about what leadership means to me, what is it for and I’ve learned valuable skills when it comes to gardening, it’s even inspired me to get started on my garden at home, encouraging the bees, bugs and butterflies! Today has been a welcome change/break from office life and I feel I’ve gained much from it. One of the key memories I will take from today is around being myself, recognising what my values and beliefs are, and respecting other people as individuals. Listening, truly is a skill that we can all develop more and something it’s personally I’m working towards developing. Thank you for a fun, creative and inclusive day!
— Eurostar participant