You may know it, if you have been on an experiential leadership development programme.

Nigel is a simulation project used to explore leadership beliefs and behaviours, in a safe and real way. I first came across it as an MBA participant, then ended up facilitating it often whilst working with Lane4 and Impact International.

It involves a giant chess board, where roles are divided with some ending up as being pawns. There are communication constraints to replicate hierarchy and typical barriers in virtual multicultural team working.  And a time constraint.

Every time.  Every single time. Without fail. It stimulates rich individual and collective reflection.

And it isn’t even really about amplifying the rich learnings of chess as a metaphor in business and organisational life.  What it most highlights, is the systemic pressure people feel and what they do or don’t do as a result.

Leaders who moments before are talking confidentially about their leadership, when placed in this scenario, can act against their own curiosity, compassion, freedom and initiative.  The exercise shines a light on how we behave in the face of authority and what beliefs we have about people and potential.  It shows how we can so easily give away our personal authority or seek to control others.  How we can quickly dampen collaboration and creativity.  And how we can accept the system even if we know in our hearts, it is not working.

Protest as leadership action

So in real life, facing a system which may imprison, destroy your livelihood, torture or kill you, to stand up for what you know to be true in your heart, is the ultimate act of courage and leadership is it not.

Systemic change has always happened because of its relationship with individual change.  Of people noticing what is needed, and choosing to do something different to alter things for the better.  Engendering collective momentum even if it is to risk their lives and their loved ones. And that change often starts with protesting against what currently exists in the system.

And so I really appreciated Russell Brand and Yanis Varoufakis sharing the words of Russian protestors. Here is an excerpt of what the protestors asked them to share with the western world…

“There’s only one way to prevent these catastrophes. We ourselves, the men and women of Russia have to stop this war.  This country belongs to us, not to a handful of distraught old men with palaces and yachts”.

On the episode, Russell elaborated on our fundamental human right to protest. And pointed out the hypocrisy of British and Canadian governments in expressing their support for Ukraine and Russian protestors, whilst simultaneously actively undermining and passing laws to restrict the right to protest, in their own countries.

Change starts at home.

As Leo Tolstoy observed, “everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”

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