holding brafe.space: how we explored leadership by questioning everything we thought we knew

The intention

At leadership.sprouts we are optimistically convicted that there are a catalyzing number of leaders committed to guiding us in the direction of a more sustainable and inclusive global ecosystem. Those leaders are in our homes, communities, businesses, and virtual lives, doing their absolute best to navigate some incredibly challenging and urgently needed changes. Our organization is committed to offering them spaces where they can engage in their development on both individual and organizational levels and the brafe.space event for entrepreneurs was our first attempt at doing so.

def. entrepreneur: problem-solvers and shapers of our future, driven to make an impact on people, society, and our planet.

The First 24-hours: integrating excluded perspectives

Chiefly, it was beautifully sacred to experience and contribute to space and a collective of people both safe and brave enough to confront their radically human complexity from mental, physical, and spiritual perspectives. The 48-hour event began in the evening with a series of mind-body experiences designed to help us create a safe space with one another and prepare to integrate new perspectives intellectually, physically, and emotionally. On the first morning, feminist, racial justice, and disability rights experts shared their life experiences and expertise with the group. Their workshops and talks put into perspective the incredible amount of privilege amongst us as entrepreneurs in somewhat of a jolted manner.

By acknowledging the blank spots in our own perspectives, we became able to explore quite honestly and vulnerably the perspectives which have been excluded in much of our public and private spaces, and the ways in which we have contributed to or been complicit with their exclusion. Intellectually, many of us understood that having a wide scope of perspective and knowledge is valuable, but the exercises surfaced feelings that had not quite caught up with our rational brains.

This group practice led by intersectionality expert Emilia Roig helped us to identify and visualize the privileges and barriers experienced by those within our group. The questions used for this exercize helped us observe how race, gender, and disability affected us as entrepreneurs and guided us into further conversations about the need for systematic change.

Therefore, the consensus that more perspectives are valuable did not negate the fact that conversations on systematic oppression and exclusion are often met with resistance. We were no exception, as within ourselves and the group individual fragilities surfaced. Together, we needed to work to hold space for conversations on systematic issues such as hierarchy, racism, ableism, and resource distribution while weaving in and out of conversations and exercises which allowed us to authentically feel and discuss how we were able or unable to integrate these perspectives on an individual level.

def. brafe.space (brave + safe): a space where you can feel safe to be brave – brave to explore, engage, and exchange

The last 24 hours: new leadership capacities

This outdoor tent was used for gathering, yoga and breathing exercises, and some of the workshops. Here, we are experiencing triad discussions, small discussions planned quite regularly throughout the program to reflect on how we were experiencing new perspectives and the space.

Opening ourselves to new perspectives in such an honest and deep manner taught us an incredible lesson about leadership. We often claim that leadership needs to adapt to a more complex world that has changed from a national analog to a global digital one and that our organizations need to change their structures, cultures, and understanding of productivity accordingly. On an intellectual level, we understand that meaningful leadership in this context comes with the necessity of new psychological and communicational capacities.

Yet, experiencing these changes and complexity with our bodies and emotions is an entirely different game. Being confronted with the complexity and diversity of perspectives at the brafe.space, we all felt the resistance and pain of overcoming our own egos, selflessly listening to others, and holding the collective complexity. Feeling that inner pain reminded us of the depth of inner work required of us. Despite how much we intellectually understood about the emerging narrative of leadership, we each revealed parts of ourselves that remain to set aside the long-learned behaviors and attitudes of the “all-knowing leader” and which stand in the way of meaningful value creation and authenticity.

As we began to recognize the magnitude of inner work ahead, we also came to the acknowledgment that our current ecosystem is incapable of providing the time, slack, or focus which leaders need to develop the capacities our world now demands. We shared the feeling that while we keep ‘running the hamster wheel’ of short-term profits and fake productivity, we were missing the big picture and blurring our perception of value creation with short-sighted objectives. As a group, we spent intensive time sharing our very personal stories from inside the hamster wheel and listened to the perspectives of those investing money into the current system, as well as those who are dependent on the capital the current system provides. Ultimately, we figured that if we could only create more space for people to start their journey of inner work and integrate more perspectives, we would be able to create meaningful value for our organizations, customers, and communities.

Moving Forward

On the last day, we observed an incredible sense of ownership of the space we created and how it would develop. Working groups were formed to define the next steps, create a personal development and learning path, and build the financial architecture to support the space. Questions raised included:

  • How do we hold space for the diversity of perspectives and complexity of topics in the room, and what work does it take to hold that diversity and complexity in the real world?
  • How do we create an economic ecosystem that broadens the space for development on individual, organizational and societal instead of limiting it?
  • What do we do moving forward with these experiences and relationships, and how do we do it in integrity with our shared values?
Between workshops and panels, the group had the opportunity to listen to artists such as in this intimate, nighttime performance by Loney Dear. Trioritat, a jazz band, and Yulia Nico, a DJane, also joined the brafe.space to share their music with the group.

We all left a bit confused about exactly what we had experienced together. What is it personal development workshop? A conference on inclusion? A symposium on leadership? Was it some sort of festival? We could try to define it; however, it seems from our experience that these topics are strongly interrelated and deserve to share a space with one another.

In the end, we gained more perspective, experience, and knowledge from which we can make more holistic decisions and which are invaluable in guiding our path forward, and began the foundations of a community that is deeply committed to re-defining leadership, themselves and their organizations in the process. In the conversations since the brafe.space, members have mentioned from their own lives, and we have observed, a growing focus on developing more meaningful inclusivity and sustainability in language, planning, and systematic design – from within leadership.sprouts to organizations in its periphery. It seems that radical change is emerging as one way of honoring that sacredly vulnerable human complexity we experienced together.

For now, brafe.space serves as an enriching soil from which to sprout a forest and an inspiration for further entrepreneurial training and spaces which provide access to the same models and methodologies applied within the event and which helped to make it so impactful for us as a group.

Author: Allyson Clark
Photos by: Susanne Erler