Validity of Voices

stephanie fuller

Stephanie Fuller has worked at Arts Council England, South East for ten years in four different roles, and she is currently Senior Manager, Regional Planning – running a team of specialists and leading on external strategic partnerships for the region as well as working with colleagues more widely. Stephanie recently spoke about the impact Sync has had on her own leadership development at the Sync Thinking event held on the 9th March, 2011 at the Wellcome Collection in London.

The following is an edited transcript of her presentation on the day.

Not cookie cutter leaders

a gingerbread man

Before I came here today, I did think about bringing a gingerbread man with me, to show we didn't all want to look like cookie cutter versions of leadership. That difference makes us who we are. It's the most important thing about all of us and for me the most important thing about this programme.

When I was trying to think about what I wanted to say I was thinking quite a lot about 'validity', about what that means. It's about testing things and finding them and seeing what the value of them is, but it's also about things being able to be different. Just because something is valid doesn't make it right for you. It's right in its own terms. I think for leadership it's really important that once you move outside that command and control model, you understand your own unique voice amongst all the other unique voices of the people you are going to work with. You need to value everybody else's difference, and in order to do that you need to understand your own and be able to work with it.

Acceptance of difference

photos of pebbles - all are different colours

I'm not going to try to represent other people's experience on Sync, that doesn't seem to me to be a thing I could do. What I am going to do is give you some observations and reflections based on my own experience.

I've been part of quite a number of leadership programmes over the last four or five years. Sync has been a real stand out for me. Part of that is about the acceptance of difference. In the programme you can be who ever you are, and sometimes that changes from day to day. That is possible because everybody is different in the programme and is supported. That really reinforces the message that there are lots of different ways to do things and that's fine. So your version is just as fine as anybody else's.

Some of it is to do with the access provision. I think that has been done in a really holistic way, it just kind of happens. It should be happening on all mainstream leadership programmes but it isn't. I've certainly been to events where the problems with access have been the things I really remember about that experience, which probably isn't the legacy they were trying to leave! When access works it's invisible, but it is incredibly important.

I also think Sync has managed to deliver a programme that is specifically for disabled people really well, because I'm sure I don't have to tell you guys the disability world is quite politicised. If you don't really operate in that world, if you don't have ties to communities, if you don't seem like the ‘right’ kind of disabled person, or you are not disabled in the ‘right’ way, sometimes that can be quite isolating. I remember vividly being at a conference with somebody who I knew through Sync who was trying to initiate a discussion about their own experience, that of acquiring impairment and managing it, whilst carrying on meaningful work. They had a physical health condition, a deteriating condition. The group they were in weren't interested in that and just squashed the conversation. It was quite shocking actually. We need to make sure we all look after each other. As disabled people we need to be tolerant and accepting of each other, that's the way you want to be treated; Sync has made its way through that very smoothly.

Being who you are

lips which have the words - 'will it help if I shout' written on them.

Another things that stands out for me from Sync, born very much out of my own experience, is the idea that you have a voice and you know who you are; that's you and you can just stand up and be. I think for lots of people that's kind of not where they are, especially at the beginning of the leadership journey. I think for me I was quite stuck in a number of ways when I started on the programme. I didn't really know what I thought, and how I should be. I've been able to explore that and find out – been able to test things. Some things haven't worked and I've had to lick my wounds and have another go. That's been really, really important. It was all about finding out where my own authentic version of doing this stuff lay.

Now I'm really comfortable with being me - you know, I am myself at work, at home. I'm myself all the time. I do my job in a way that's about how I am. That's my way of doing it and that's fine. I don't think I would have known what that way was five years ago, but I worked it out for myself eventually. I think that's the magic of Sync for me, really, more than anything else. I remember saying to Sarah, actually you know what, I solved all my own problems. It's true, but I was only able to do that because of Sync facilitating that to happen.

I think the coaching, the exploration, the stuff about impairment, the stuff not about impairment, having it all in a single package is what makes it powerful. Actually you can't ignore either side of those things. For example, for me it's important to think about how I behave in meetings technically, because I have to lipread. But - how does that come over to somebody else? That's really important, but so is self knowledge about my personal values and how can I play those out in a work context. Having those in one place for me has been really, really powerful.


photo of a transformer

When I was thinking about what I was going to say today, I was playing about with Google images. as you do. I don't know if anybody has tried this but if you use Google images and search for leaders, the first 5 pictures include a Transformer toy, a dog, some other things but no people, which was kind of interesting. On that first page you also get several Barack Obamas and one David Milliband. You could spend a lot of time trying to work out what that’s all about.

I should have brought a Transformer with me, but I am just no good at visual aids. For those of you less familiar with children's consumer culture, Transformers are robots that hide half the time disguised as vehicles, then turn into heroic champions that beat off the evil ones. It’s all very gung-ho but I quite like this idea of being a Transformer, one thing that's quite functional and another thing that's quite inspirational. You can switch between the two, but you are simultaneously both of those things all the time. That seems to me something about knowing yourself. You know you're the hero, even though everybody else thinks you're an ice cream van!

I suppose, kind of round up, for me, the key thing I have gained from Sync is about feeling validated in my approach, in my values. It’s about me taking responsibility for doing something with that.

I am going to leave you with a quote that I really like from Lily Tomlin. She says, "I always wondered why somebody doesn't do something about that, then I realised, I was somebody". Thanks.

More from Stephanie Fuller

a picture of a woman speaking through a megaphone

I have worked at Arts Council England, South East for ten years in four different roles, and am currently Senior Manager, Regional Planning – running a team of specialists and leading on external strategic partnerships for the region as well as working with colleagues more widely. Despite (or possibly because of) the challenges, I love my job and thrive on navigating stormy seas. Over the years I have come to the conclusion that what I’m really interested in is people and how they relate to each other, which is what informs all my working practice.

My background is in visual arts, and I have had a variety of jobs in organisations including the Crafts Council and British Healthcare Arts, as well as running my own gallery, making hats and working as a freelance consultant/creative producer. I acquired my hearing impairment eight years ago, so I’m still learning about that too, although being a disabled person is now integrated into my identity along with being a parent, gardener and much more.

I have always worked in the mainstream, so my experience is particular to that environment. Sometimes it’s difficult, but I feel it’s made me adaptable and sensitive to others and forces me to listen, which is always a good thing.