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Sync: Leadership for Disabled People

Photograph of sync co-ordinator

Photograph of Sarah Pickthall

Is it different for us?

Do disabled people experience leadership differently? How is an individual's vision of themselves as a leader shaped by their experiences of exclusion and involvement? Do some disabled people have to hide in order to be taken seriously?

Sync is a leadership development programme for disabled people, that aims to take the lid off these questions. Sync is being developed by Jo Verrent (ADA inc), Sarah Pickthall (cusp inc) and People Create (who ran the Leadership Development Days) and is funded by the Cultural Leadership Programme (CLP) alongside many other programmes all aimed at developing confidence, experience and skill around the question of leadership. Do disabled people need a 'separate' programme? In some ways, they don't, all of CLP's programmes are open to disabled people. But even if you put aside questions of access, we feel that there are some aspects of leadership that, for many disabled people, bear further exploration.

Many disabled people find the 'leader' daunting, and struggle to use it about themselves. Is this because of a lack of confidence, a lack of role models or a lack of experience?

Caroline Bowditch: I think there is something scary about the word 'leader' and about seeing myself as one. Every now and then I think "oh maybe I could put that hat on" and then I think "oh I'm not quite sure, am I good enough yet to actually consider attaching that label to myself?"

caroline-bowditch.jpg alt="Photograph of spokeswoman" description="Black and white photo of a woman who is looking away from the camera." title="Photograph of Caroline Bowditch"

So who is Sync for? Jo Verrent, co-founder of Sync, is clear: "if we only pick up 'the usual suspects' then we will have failed - and not just in terms of reaching out to new people, but in relation to the depth of dialogue we can have. If the only conversations that happen are with people who all think the same, then where is the learning?"

Sync needs to involve a wide range of disabled people, not just those with different impairments but also with different 'takes' on disability. This is why Sync is reaching out to capture different voices - from those who embrace the cultural identity their impairment gives them and those for whom their impairment is just a sometimes inconvenient part of their lives.

And the list of those coming forward to share their experiences is growing: from Nabil Shaban, actor, writer, founder of Graeae Theatre Company to Michael Lynch, Chief Executive of the South Bank Centre; from Baroness Lockwood, Labour Party Activist to Rachel Feldburg, Artistic Director of Ilkley Literature Festival.

Sync is about giving you information about leadership development in ways that are accessible, relevant and, where it's important, consider our unique perspective. So how will Sync work? Sync is currently planned at two levels:

* Sync 100 - a distance learning programme designed to give you information about leadership and make you think.

* Sync 20 - a bespoke programme for twenty people to take the thinking and the learning deeper.

Sync 100 opens in June and runs for 12 months. Any disabled person interested in leadership and working in, or aspiring to work in the creative and cultural industries can join. It's a membership programme so you need to sign up and once you have done so, you'll get a fortnightly prompt asking you questions, providing you with information and generally giving you food for thought. You'll also be in direct contact with all the other members of Sync 100, finding out different perspectives and opinions.

Sync 20 will be an additional element running alongside Sync 100 for twenty disabled people designed take the sync thinking and learning deeper. Each of the twenty will be offered personal coaching and get to take part in a national training programme, with additional regional events designed around their needs.

Unlike many leadership programmes, we are not designing the exact format of sync 20 until we know who is going to be involved. This is because we believe that to provide suitable access for people you need to know their needs right from the start and then build from that.

Sync 20 will run from October 2008 to January 2009, and will be open to all members of Sync 100. Selection will take place over the summer of 2008.

Johnny-Crescendo.jpg alt="Photograph of disabled leader" description="A white man wearing a brightly coloured hat is photographed from above as part of a group of disabled people in wheelchairs at a DAN demo." title="Photo of disabled activist and musician Johnny Crescendo" width="200"

Do we need more disabled leaders? Johnny Crescendo reckons we do.

"Non disabled people are seen as smarter, cleverer, more resourceful and more often than not take over leadership even if they don't mean to. Disabled leaders need pride in themselves as do disabled people in general to resist this. We have enough non disabled leaders - we need more of us..."

To find out more about Sync, and how to get involved in the online training programme Sync 100 you can go to the website (from June), join the Facebook group 'Sync', phone or text 07504 794324, write to Sync, Spring House, Spring Farm Lane, Harden, BD16 1BS or email sync[at]