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  • Writer's pictureManas Daxini

Leading with vulnerability

This cohort is an unique one, like every cohorts in non-institutional fellowships. Our fellows are from various socio-cultural and geographic identities that inform their practice and approach of responding to what it means to work and reside in a conflict space like south Kashmir. One does not sign off from having to work after that last school bell. Just like the children, they go home to conflicts and traumas that thicken the air here; no matter which context you come from.

I’m in a quest for how to deal with fellows negotiating the freedoms and restrictions that come with the curriculum and the draping of such a socio-cultural fabric. Such an internal conflict takes buffer time and a transition that can be facilitated in many ways.

My conflict as a leader discovering and negotiating my own actions with given realities, is between handholding and letting people fully experience journey of such a transition. Of course I have a curriculum to fall back on, for facilitating work challenges. But there is no manual for facilitating a culture shock.

When I investigate this shock within self and also my fellows, I find a conflict between the feeling of ‘doing something right’ and having learnt how different this setting is. Including but not limited to: How much of our identities, thoughts, opinions and beliefs do we express? how political to be about an identity that has been nurtured outside of this space? Which fights to unsubscribe to, and which fights to look at as an art of war? How do we know we are still taking care of ourselves and being aware of how this experience is changing us?

Hence, my approach comes with unconditional empathy. I’m still experimenting with the idea of critical empathy. I’ve seen benefits of letting people go through hardships and journeys keeping myself from intervening so there is lesser dependency, but also handholding when necessary. I’ve learnt that a good leader is able to make a system and a culture that can sustain itself without needing their intervention. But i’ve also learnt that vulnerability is a risky strategy to do that.

Sometimes vulnerability is an invitation for someone to empathise with your position, whereas you also let go of the control of image. The power relations that you have consciously or subconsciously established go on an auto-piloted act of finding it’s balance in the process of revealing yourself.

But on the other hand, it also invites the other person to look at you as a fellow explorer, beyond the tag of only a manager or a leader; as a human.

In the letters sent to them between their selection and placement on-ground, I’ve always addressed to them as friends, comrades, co-explorers, experimentators, facilitators, troops even. Always fellows in the sense I made of it.

I lead with the same vulnerability these relationship tags come with. Manager seems to have been the one that has stuck most diligently, given the dependency and need for a structure and hierarchy that ensures function in the given system.

I, myself, as a manager have also managed to put myself in situations where the desperation to react came over the need of a pause in dealing with sensitivity of the situation with my subordinates. But to model the energy, I’ve explicitly owned up to my biases and dominant discourses to apologise, before changing my ways of negotiating conversations and relations in such moments of healthy confrontations.

Fortunately, all this doesn’t keep me up at night. Looking at such experiments with an added hat of a researcher documenting these experiences along with being a manager helps. It also reminds me of my strengths and renders confidence in my responses as a leader.

Being aware of anxieties and imposters within me take away from my stern-ness and add layers to the complexity of leading in such a space. Yet, I feel vulnerability gives grace to my given and embodied authority.

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