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Focus on Leadership: Jo Verrent and Sarah Pickthall

Oct 16, 2015

This month, ten arts and cultural leaders with disability will be participating in the Sync Leadership Program  in Adelaide from 12 to 16 October. Sync co-founders Jo Verrent and Sarah Pickthall will be leading the Australian Sync program and give their perspectives on cultural leadership.

What is ‘cultural leadership’?

Sarah: Cultural leadership is about leading from where you are, your lived experience and the culture that experience sits within. We are neither one thing or another, we are a complex mesh of multiple identities. Without a diversity of leadership styles and opinions as part of the leadership mix we do not reflect the society within which we live and so focusing on different leadership styles and situations informed by a diversity of perspectives is paramount.

Jo: I see cultural leadership as legacy – we all are part of a complex ecology steering the cultural aspects of our nations. I believe we have a responsibility to open up our culture to all, to make it accessible to and also representative of, the wide range of people living on our shores. I think cultural leadership in the past has been focused on maintaining a status quo, perpetuating an elite. I hope I’m part of a generation that thinks differently – we want excellence still, for sure, but linked to access. The two aren’t mutually exclusive.

What do you think is the most important trait for a cultural leader?

Sarah: To balance work, life and energy and to take time ….think before taking action!

Jo: to be true to themselves and yet fair to others. I agree with Sarah, balance is key. I think cultural leaders have to consider both the impact of any decision on their own work and also on the wider ecology – not always easy when it’s constantly shifting.

What advice would you give your past self or someone else about leading others?

Sarah: Leadership isn’t about a position, it’s about behaviours.

Jo: I’d give myself more confidence early on. For years I was hung up fretting about if I was good enough, or if I was just a token gesture. Self belief for sure, which for me came through other people believing in me first.

What leaders do you admire?

Sarah: Gandhi was very true to his values, always and he had a fragility to him and a consistency of approach.

Jo: My current cultural heroes are Ruth MacKenzie, Artistic Director Holland Festival, Joyce Wilson, Area Director, London, Arts Council England and Moria Sinclair, Director of Paul Hamlyn Foundation . Three incredible women who lead in extremely varied ways. They taught me that there are so many different ways to influence and make change happen.

Are there any online resources that you turn to, or have drawn leadership inspiration from? 

Sarah: ‘Why should anyone be led by you’ by Robert Goffee and Gareth Jones, it explores ‘authentic leadership’ so very well.

Jo: I’d cite our own Syncleadership  web resource! Lots there, distilled from a range of leadership approaches and all with a unique disability slant.


Sarah Pickthall is a consultant, coach and community producer working globally across project with diversity, disability and equality at their heart with a focus on digital

Jo Verrent is currently senior producer for Unlimited a commissioning programme for disabled artists, and has a background as an artist, writer, consultant, trainer… and lots of other words. Jo is driven to persuade the world of the positive benefits of diversity – that difference is delicious, and not divergent.