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Togetherness Through Crisis – Reflections on the Windsor Leadership Dialogue 2021


I really think togetherness is the superpower of our species…
…The only way out is through, and the only way through is together. Let us make it out the only way we can – together. John Green, ‘together.’ (On YouTube)

On 18 and 19 January 2021, I attended and supported the Windsor Leadership Dialogue as an assistant rapporteur and an intern of Oasis School of Human Relations. I assisted with the technical and facilitation sides of the event – supporting its navigation through uniquely uncharted waters on both fronts, given that this year’s dialogue was not in the grounds of Windsor Castle, but in fact online.

I was anxiously interested (but ultimately impressed) to see how the Windsor Leadership Dialogue could still deliver the experience it promised in the format of two full-day Zoom sessions, instead of a residential two-night stay in the shadow of the magnificent St. George’s Chapel. The previous year that I attended the WLD, the unique setting formed the dialogue so much that I wondered whether the WLD would be able to make such an invigorating impact this year – especially since the concept of ‘Zoom-fatigue’ had become so real to many people. However, many reported what I also felt, – that the core of the dialogue remained intact, that the experience remained refreshing, despite the online medium. The attendees could still ‘lift the lids on their learning’, which was the theme of the dialogue. What mattered was that each attendee, supported by expert facilitators, was there with the clear intention to move out of the busy, pressuring, and action-driven space of ordinary working life, and instead move into a more reflective space, a space where they could listen deeply, share honestly, and pursue essential questions together – without needing to find a ‘solution’. Dialogue was hindered, but still very possible, and seemed to be especially necessary given how separate and isolated leaders reported feeling throughout the COVID crisis so far.

In a year in which we were uniquely separated from each other, the WLD did end up providing an important space for togetherness, a reflective pause from usual working life where individuals from across sectors gathered to share and explore their collective worries, experiences, and emerging insights. What kind of insights and themes came out of the process of online dialogue this year? From my perspective, it seemed as if leaders were struggling with what are universal leadership and organisational issues, but issues that have been particularly sharpened throughout the last year; leaders were exploring new and different forms of being and working together which allow for sustainable, diverse, and purposeful value-centred collaboration that can weather and adapt to the certainty of uncertainty, crisis, and the un-known. And as one participant in the dialogue said, “- this past year, we’ve never known so little.”

The crises we encountered this year were reflected on as both a challenge and an opportunity. Recognising, responding to, and learning from crisis situations can remind us of our collective vulnerability to the distant and unknown, and so our need to keep changing and adapting and working together to prepare for, or prevent, future crises. Considering this, it became clear that it is sometimes important not to avoid, but to productively make crisis situations – as the aim often has been of Black Lives Matter and climate activism. The crises of COVID have also revealed to us our interconnected vulnerability and so our need to experiment with new ways of working together (inside the workplace as well as on a societal level), even perhaps adapting to new digital worlds more permanently.

Throughout the dialogue, leaders explored questions of leadership in the digital age, of organisational hierarchy and wellbeing, of crisis leadership, of passion and purpose, and of culture change. These questions have never appeared as pertinent, profound, and interconnected as they have this year. After the dialogue, leaders mentioned that they felt less isolated and cynical, less alone, and bunkered, and instead more connected to people from different worlds, people who are struggling with similar things albeit in different ways.

Reflecting on the Windsor Leadership Dialogue 2021 after six months, the biggest theme that emerged for me, (as the reader may have guessed) is the theme of togethernessone of the most treasured feelings of this year. Although formulated in different ways, each of the challenges that leaders faced were challenges to maintain and sustain forms of togetherness – forms of organisation, forms of gathering – not just despite crisis, but particularly because of it. Leaders seemed to be grappling with the question of finding new ways to stay together, new ways to gather, to lead and organise ourselves through turbulent times.

This year’s online Windsor Leadership Dialogue proved to me that togetherness can be found despite crisis and separation, and that the best way (perhaps the only way) to move through crisis is together. I (and likely others) entered back into life afterwards feeling more connected, refreshed, with new and exciting ideas and a clearer sense of direction. I could better ‘hold myself together’ through the uncertainties of the year, in no small part because of the WLD, which reminded me of the value of being held, in dialogue, together.

Laurie Spafford