In Spring 2021, with the support of Canada Council for the Arts and British Council, Canada, 33 of our Sync Alumni from the UK and Canada spent a month in and out of Zoom rooms supping the good soup of our leadership thinking in these unprecedented times.
Sync has come a long way since its inception in 2008. When Jo Verrent and myself set out our Sync stall, Deaf and disabled leadership* was still a bit of an enigma with our leadership ambitions and access for the most part maligned, misunderstood and at worst, disregarded. It was Hilary Carty of Clore Leadership and her helming of the then Cultural Leadership programme that gave us the impetus and push to shape Sync our way with its kick ass ‘y’ and access in place, we have continued rolling out our disabled-led coaching leadership formula ever since. It’s become a key place to explore what gets in the way of our best laid plans and our purpose in the world together.
Disabled folk are the original adaptors and shape shifters; we – by our very presence – challenge what leadership looks and behaves like and we’re still doing this as more of us are defying expectations of how we must behave in this space. Over the last two years, we’ve had to change our patterns and positions to stay in the leadership game; keeping up our activism and making unexpected and unusual interventions being authentic and staying true to our ways of being. We’ve had nothing and everything to lose. In this way we have continued to lead as artists, producers, managers and entrepreneurs; from grass roots to great galleries and grand stages, albeit digitally. We’ve needed allies to notice the labour this takes and to share the load of that labour. It is common sense to us, but also critical to our survival, to pace and pause particularly with online and now hybrid professional lives and so we are modelling ways of being that everyone can relate to, rather than seeing us as ‘other’ or an oddity in the pervading ableist frame we still have to operate within.
These springtime Sync exchanges were thrilling and a million miles away from a moan-fest, but powerful in our questioning around our rightful place in the arts and culture landscape. It was about leaning into and unpacking the stories of what was still getting in our way. Of course devising strategies of how to move forward differently – despite the unknown road ahead of us all featured heavily too.
The meet ups allowed us to shed light on the shielding and the restrictions, and the labels lazily foisted upon us, to claim back the word ‘vulnerable’ on our terms and broker how we might feature in climate discussions. It gave us opportunities to share our grand plans for museum and collection representation and reflect together on how we’ve helmed disabled and Deaf-led projects and organisations, always putting coaching practice – as Sync has always insisted it sit, at the heart of our leadership progression.
Our most recent intensive programme in Australia, in a new two week virtual format, has clearly demonstrated the continuing need for Sync as a safe and stretching disabled-led space to explore potential and pathways as it relates to the different societies and lands we live upon. Sync is committed to reflecting and responding to who is not in the room and who by our very entitlement we might still be excluding; that’s all part of the self-effacing position we take we must continue to take when we put our heads above the parapet.
In 2022, Sync is developing new iterations of our leadership and coaching formula: a new two week intensive format for British Columbia, a seminar series for learning disabled leaders, and a live event as part of CoMotion festival on May 1 at Harbourfront Centre.
*language around disability globally is nuanced and varied, shifting from country to country, community to community. By Deaf and disabled we include all those self-identifying as experiencing barriers due to impairment within the societies in which they live. This includes those with lived experience of learning disability, mental health experiences, chronically ill folk and those defining as neurodivergent.
Sarah Pickthall is an artist, coach, consultant and co-founder of Sync Leadership. She is a lead facilitator for Leadership in Personalised Care programme, NHS Academy, UK and Diversity Associate for Clore Leadership.