Feel Your Feelings: Thriving in the Cultural Workplace
Building on the findings of Vulnerability and Cultural Leadership (2018, research), this action research project will explore the emotional landscape of cultural leadership and develop a series of sector resources to build psychological safety and emotional awareness that is the basis for thriving.
Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and Clore Leadership, and supervised by the University of Warwick's Centre for Cultural Policy and Media Studies.
Why "feel your feelings"?
Rebooting organisational cultures to support thriving
Research overview from facilitator and researcher Sholeh Johnston
This research is informed by my practice as a producer, coach, researcher and education designer, and also by my personal journey to recover from childhood trauma. In both cases, I have witnessed the impact that emotional vulnerability can have on a person’s capacity to thrive, and (professionally) an organisation’s capacity to evolve, regenerate and emerge creative solutions despite the uncertainty and volatility of today’s world. I have also been witness to the reality that many cultural workers and their organisations lack an explicit focus on the importance of and respect for the emotional landscape to their wellbeing and success, even though one of the core values of the sector is in providing experiences for people that connect them to stories, journeys and feelings that invite reflection on what it means to be human. At work, our feelings are still too often taboo, even though we deal in the drama of being alive. Anecdotally from my work as a coach, supported by findings from by 2018 research on Vulnerability and Cultural Leadership, cultural workers - like many people across the wider social landscape - are often painfully disconnected from their feelings or are actively repressing them in environments which provide little context for vulnerability, inhibiting the expression of authentic strengths, gifts and creativity that are core to our wellbeing.
In this pandemic era, this importance of creating space for feelings and their wisdom to be heard has never been more urgent and important. As the global Covid crisis continues to pose challenges to leaders, employees and organisations across the economy, the “soft” skills and cultural principles that support people to thrive in rapidly changing circumstances are still lacking, especially as people are challenged to find time and finances for personal development. While there is a wealth of academic research documenting the importance of psychological safety to the creativity, wellbeing and resilience of organisations and workers, there is still a need for research-based tools and practices that can support a paradigm shift towards a leadership that creates conditions for collective thriving rather than burn-out.
What we'll be doing and how you can participate
This research will test, verify and improve the quality and impact of a coaching programme for cultural leaders, and create research-informed “DIY” resources to scale-up exercises and principles for healthy self- and organisational leadership across the cultural sector.
The research is supervised by Dr Christopher Bilton at the University of Warwick's Centre for Cultural Policy and Media Studies.
A two-month group and individual coaching experience
I have spent the past three years developing an individual and group coaching process to support leaders and organisations to reconnect with their emotional world, unleash their creative capacities, improve their everyday wellbeing and start to thrive. It is a creative and embodied coaching experience that has been particularly beneficial to people during the Covid period, and it combines embodiment practices from theatre, breathwork, Systemic Constellations and somatic coaching methodologies, with research-based content and tools, shaped around the needs and specific challenges of the coachee or group.
The Thrive process has been developed and tested so far in coaching and group programmes in the UK, Italy and Slovenia, supported by European funding, led by me in partnership with coaches and therapists from a diversity of backgrounds. Through this research I want to re-centre the benefit and outcomes on UK-based cultural leaders, and build a case and resource base for the importance of prioritising emotional wellbeing and the respect of feelings within the cultural workplace more widely.
THRIVE will be offered to eight applicants, but everyone who applies will have the opportunity to do an online, "DIY" version of the programme, and will receive a hard copy of the final resource pack that we develop from the research at the end of the programme in early 2023.
THRIVE resource pack
Based on the outcomes of the action research activities, we will create a digital and print resource pack for leaders to use for their ongoing self-development, and in their organisations.
Apply to be part of our focus group to test and shape these resources >
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