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Workshop: Leadership and Compassion in the 21st Century

Updated: Feb 16, 2020

“To inspire you need to be inspired.” These words did not merely define the essence of the workshop but also the essence of being a good leader. For WIL’s second workshop of the year, Steven Asei-Dantoni, innovation consultant and university lecturer, was invited to elaborate upon his idea of leadership. Interestingly, the word ‘leadership’ was hardly mentioned during the dynamic workshop. Instead, the keywords of the discussion included compassion, connection, and vulnerability.

After a brief introduction, the participants were asked to stand in a circle and walk around, following one another. The nervous laughter and awkward smiles amplified when Steven asked the participants to give each other back massages. This exercise aimed to release the tension in the room both physically and mentally. It also set the tone and atmosphere for the upcoming exercises: intense, intimate, and interactive.

For the second exercise, the participants were asked to pair up with a stranger. The pair would have to interview one another to uncover all the wonderful and unique things hiding behind the surface. Following the short interview, a new circle was formed. Part two of the exercise was to present your partner in a creative way to illustrate all their inspirational qualities. The presentations ranged from formal speeches to dance acts all with a focus on why they thought their given partner deserved the group’s attention. Steven then went on to explain his use of African practices, bringing up the notion of Ubuntu often translated as “I am because we are.” Leadership is about listening to other people, to create strong connections with other individuals, and uplift them as illustrated by the exercise.

The third exercise shifted the focus away from public speaking to artistic collaboration. The participants were asked to sit in a circle and doodle on a piece of paper. The paper would then be handed to the person on the right, who would have to create meaning out of the doodle. This exercise continued until the papers had made their way back to their rightful owner. Steven called this exercise ‘collective intelligence’. By working on another person’s idea, the group was able to generate creative images. According to Steven, proper leaders allow people to express themselves creatively.

The last exercise was arguably the most intense of them all. Not because of public speaking, nor because of collaboration. The intensity came from the intimacy required. Once again, the participants had to pair up with a stranger. This time, each individual had to think about a conflict they had experienced earlier this year and pretend that their partner was the root of the issue. This exercise comprised of different stages. The first stage was to accuse the other person, second stage was to defend, third stage involved expressing one’s feelings, while the last stage was an act of understanding. After this exercise, each pair got the opportunity to have an in-depth conversation with their partner about what they liked or did not like about themselves.

As a final act, the last circle was formed, and everyone was encouraged to share their feelings and thoughts about the workshop. Most participants were surprised by how intimate and vulnerable they were able to feel towards a stranger. Although the conversation started off as intense, the entire experience was rather liberating. To emphasize the intention of the workshop, Steven pointed out the lack of femininity among leaders. Femininity as in the ability to listen, to care, to connect. These exercises were meant to bring and cherish the feminine side of all participants for them to apply it in real life as a leader and as a thoughtful human being.

by Anh Thu Nguyen

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