Thursday, May 21, 2015

What is Leadership?

If there is a question I ask myself every single day, sometimes unintentionally, it is 'what is leadership'? I may not even ask it in those precise words. I may not even ask it in the context of a group of people. But in order to take on the things I do, and the things I want to accomplish, every day this question must be posed.

Leadership is often a term people give prestigious status. It is often looked at as something only people with certain gifts can obtain. But in reality, it's something we can choose to take on at any moment. In the moment we are presented with a situation, we can choose to handle it from a context of Leadership, or not. This choice is neither right or wrong, good or bad. It simply is a choice that delineates a result with a lasting impact, for a larger vision, and likely benefit more than oneself.

I am sitting on the train this morning daydreaming of my upcoming day and what I need to get done. At a stop, a group of people walk on and I am still in Lala-Land. I notice the person next to me gets up and I see he is offering his seat to a middle aged woman. Not old per say, but older than he and I for sure. I looked to see the pleasantly surprised look of gratitude on her face as she sat next to me. He gave the woman a brief smile and held on to the bar. It was nothing to him, almost an automatic decision to give up his seat. He also did not get off soon; he was on the train for many more stops, standing. There was nothing especially unique looking about this guy. He was just a guy, but in that moment he was a leader. Why? Because he inspired me. He made me step outside my box and consider things next time I have the opportunity to bring a pleasant surprise of joy to someone else, someone I don't know, for no reason at all except to be able to. And I'm sure I'm not the only one he inspired in that moment. His act may have also opened up something for that woman, who knows.

In dealing with my clients, I have come across a plethora of situations where I not only have to ask myself what a good business owner do, but also what a leader would do. In many of these situations, a decision that may be wise for my business may not necessarily be the one a leader would make. In the end I always have to ask myself... What is the situation with a win/win? Does it mean I may need to take responsibility for something that makes me uncomfortable but in the end will have everyone benefit? Or will it be better for my business if I just choose the easier decision, and walk away knowing only one of us has won? Will I always wonder if I could have handled things better.

Leadership as whole, when integrated into my home, work, and life may take more effort and focus but has proven time and time again to manifest stronger relationships, stability, abundance...and it empowers me. It also has been known to inspire others around me to not only trust me but step up and take on a leadership context in their own lives. It sounds like a responsibility that no one would want to take on, but the point I am making is you already do, like it or not. That man probably didn't wake up and say to himself, 'I'm going to be a leader today', but by giving up his seat he was one, without even knowing it. If he did not, would it have been bad? No, of course not. People's lives would have gone on just the same as they always have. Trust me, choosing the leadership context is not something I do all the time - I'm a human being. There are days when I don't feel like it, and the world around me doesn't change. But the more I choose it, the easier it becomes, the more rich my life is, and the more I attract the people who are also leaders living in integrity.

This became such a stand, such an intoxicating way to live, that I came up with this idea...a crazy plan to take my talents, my gifts, and use them to share this idea of leadership. It's my way of improving the planet. Because as long as anyone can be empowered by a choice, a choice that may inspire greatness and potential in others, why not spread it?

Our industry was in need of support and guidance when it comes to building a business from a place of Leadership. Thus for the past 4 years I have built the The Body of Artists Leadership Program, a creative community of artists committed to growing and giving through Leadership. We are about to start our 4th program in July. I'm so proud of the artists that have come through it already... Making the world a better place with their art and integrity. I could not as a teacher and mentor, and quite honestly as a human being, ask for more.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

How do you know you are on the right Path: World Malaria Day Project Conclusion

I'm sitting here with fingers paused above the keys because there is just so much to tell you, so much to share, I almost don't even know where to begin...

So let's start with a review. The past few months I have been sharing my thoughts on how you know you are on the " right path". Concurrently I have been describing my journeys in Africa working on this World Malaria Day project as an example of events that give me signs that I am in fact exactly where I'm supposed to be. In review, the key essential points I have touched on are as follows:

1. Set clear visionary intentions or prayers as to what you want to create as though it's already on its way to you.

2. When things fall apart, know that it is sometimes a bigger plan at work to bring you closer to where you are supposed to be, even if you do not know what it is in the moment.

3. Every vision and road to being on your right path has a lot of hard, committed, challenging, work to get it to be where it is considered off the ground and a success.

4. When you combine faith with committed action, everything around you conspires and aligns to open doors and free channels towards your desired result.

These all have shown up at different times and several levels of extremes throughout the journey. Especially the one that talks about when things fall apart...ha, we could write a movie script solely based on that one. There are only two more vital key points to check in with. And I'm not sure I even truly got them all until this last trip.

Upon our arrival in Nigeria for the 3rd time I soon learned our schedule for our art pieces needs to be drastically altered...this was based on a series of miscommunications, and not doing our triple check list as thoroughly as we thought. I could say it was how things work in Nigeria, but after being in Nigeria for a total of 4 weeks prior, we really cannot use that excuse. But truth be told, it was divine intervention because the way the schedule ended up was actually better than what we had planned. (No surprise).

As a result we were scrambling, as we had to find new venues for our pieces, build a model roster with a limited budget, work out a ton of logistics and get enough sleep to function. When things get down to the wire, people's tensions are high, exhaustion starts to take its toll, and emotions are raw. This last week was by far the most challenging leg of the project. Breaking down and crying at some point was inevitable. Signs you are up to something big.

But when things get this intense, and it seems like all your plans are on shaky ground, you know you are on the right path when two things happen: the very people who will be the ultimate support to getting you through to the finish line are either already around you or will show up exactly when you need just need to ask.

There was a point where we were struggling to find models for our installations and fashion show. We had met some really amazing models who had been apart of our journey already from the beginning, but these were seasoned professional models who often get paid a decent agency rate. With as many hiccups as we have had, our budget was not what we would have liked it to be. We had been blessed to have had many vendors offer us discounts and donations, but we were still very limited. So I was given the task of procurring models, good ones, with only a small stipend for incidentals. I know more than anyone that in our industry models are always being mistreated and taken advantage of especially when it comes to rate. So not only did I need to handle this delicately but also was challenged to figure this out in another country. I did at one point start to panic when on Wednesday we only had 2 people confirmed when in fact we needed 12-20. So I took a deep breath, reminded myself this is all going to happen, I just needed to see with different eyes and approach with a a faithful open heart. So I first picked up the phone and called my friend Lola Maja...One of the best makeup artists in Nigeria who had come over prior to help me with production. I told her I needed both makeup artists and models and was stuck with knowing where to get them. She immediately assured me she would work on it and not to worry. Then I picked up the phone and called every model I had met up to date to connect with each about the project, and humbly request they be involved despite our lack of funds. I realized the only way this would work is if I had already created the relationship with them where they would trust who I was and what I stood for. Slowly I got in touch with at least 5 models and each one not only agreed to be 100% in but moved schedules in order to be there. By Thursday were still short quite a few and I still had not heard back from Lola. In fact I now couldn't get a hold of her at all. Simultaneously we had just found out our location for one of our biggest pieces decided to pull out because someone else offered them more money for the same time slot. So while Robin was spending three hours of our very limited and valuable prep and planning time fighting to get our slot back, I was at the apartment with Caitlin one day before our show having a major "oh shit" moment.

Just when I was literally about to pull my hair out, I said aloud to Caitlin "How the f@*%# are we going to do this without models?" Not a second later my phone rang. It was a Nigerian number, not programmed into my phone. When I answered, a woman named Bola introduced herself. She said she had bumped into a friend named Lola Maja that day and she had mentioned to her about our project, which Bola had actually heard of.  Bola happened to own a small modeling agency and she would be more than honored to supply us with models. I stared at the phone in pure awe, and started to laugh. After thanking her profusely I asked her to send specs of the people she had available to my email address. I hung up the phone and looked at Caitlin, and said "Wow."

I called Robin immediately to tell him, not just because we pretty much had our model situation handled, but to share that experience of "ask and you shall receive". Robin seemed not to be surprised, and just concurred that we were meant to do this show and everything would work out. Oh and by the way, through his own version of coercion, managed to get our space back. Biggest sigh of relief up to date.

To say everything went smoothly after that would be a nice fairy tale ending, although not true to life in the slightest. But here is the catch: Through every thing that didn't go as planned and then turned out anyway, through every disagreement we had that came to a compromise, through every epic fail that turned into an ingenious divinely designed all brought the biggest blessing and piece of evidence that I was exactly where I was supposed to be. I knew without a shadow of a doubt because I felt so alive. That surge of energy I spoke of in the beginning of these accounts never went away. It ebbed and flowed continuously throughout this journey and stays with me and propels me even after it's over. If you do not feel utterly alive in all that you choose to do, then it's time to make different choices. Further, the energy of life comes from the movement of ups and downs, not predictable flatlines. If you take anything away from this know that life is an intricately designed wave of fabric that brings a perfectly intertwined mix of surprises and soulful knowing. Our wisdom comes from learning to ride this wave with as few attachments to how it's "supposed to be".

I know you have been waiting patiently to learn about these projects, so I'll end this blog with some amazing behind the scene pictures and subtle description of what we accomplished. Hope you enjoy it and will be walking away with assurance that your right path is the one you are standing on. You get to look for the signs as to which direction to take that will lead you to your purpose and bliss.

Piece 1: 1000 kids

In order to illustrate the horrific statistic that Nigeria loses 1000 kids a day to malaria, we decided to take on the challenge of photographing 1000 kids together in one shot. Seen here are some behind the scenes images of us capturing this beautiful image in Bathagary. This was the 2nd of two attempts to get this shot. Our intention was to raise this image on a gigantic banner on the side of the road by the 3rd Mainland bridge where over a million people a day pass by in traffic.

Shot taken by the amazing Reze Bonna, and copy edited by Mike Gibbs.
©Reze Bonna
(The little girl in the middle is my favorite.)

Piece 2: Malaria Moves

To illustrate the fact that Malaria is everywhere, we created a moving installation by body painting what are called skater boys with our 1000 kids statistic, while having some wear a sweat stained skull face, and others in our famous Moskeeto Mask. These boys skated through traffic throwing fliers in the windows of cars. The fliers brought awareness of the statistic that the mosquito carrying the malaria virus bites as early as 4:30pm. We also painted on another actor a rendition of death, who walked around with two ambiguous mosquito characters in everyday African scenarios. We ended up at the third mainland bridge where we watched our banner get raised while we spent time with the locals speaking about the project.

Piece 3: Mother Africa loses her Children

Inspired by Michelangelo's haunting Pieta statue, we wanted to recreated a body painted marble rendition of Mother Africa weeping over the loss of her child taken from her by the Malaria disease. Onlooking and observing were 9 female Mosquitos (females carry the virus) and two male. These masks were conceptualized by myself, but sculpted, molded, and cast by my amazing partner Suzanne Winwood and her awesome team, while they were painted by my self in Africa with local artists including Lola Maja, and Cass Koncept. The skater boys lured passing foot and car traffic outside into our Silverbird location by handing out flyers that said "Every 45 seconds, a mother buries her child". Eventually the skater boys became part of our installation as well.

Piece 4: Moskeeto Armor save Lives

The eve of World Malaria Day we had a fashion show primarily for press to show the wearability and versatility of the Moskeeto Armor, conceptualized and constructed by world renown designer Mai Atafo.  He spoke of how malaria affected his baby daughter and how it was not a question of if he wanted to be involved in our project, but a only a question in what capacity...