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To an unsung disruptive leader

As YPARD’s Director, Courtney Paisley bids farewell to the young agriculturists’ network, former Communications, and Knowledge Manager, Marina Cherbonnier reflects on Courtney’s game-changing impact as a disruptive leader, towards truly sustainable development.

Ironically, we don’t make enough justice to empowering leaders. This is because enabling leaders are precisely those who genuinely know that for a community to take full ownership, their “leaders” need to get out of the spotlight. Game changers show the way through their backstage restless support and collaborative work; not through self-glory. They stimulate driven action and collective voice; not followership. It is thus rare to hear about them as individuals and their incredible impact.

After six years working closely with the Director of the international network of young professionals for agricultural development (a.k.a. YPARD), I want to give credit to Courtney Paisley’s work as a disruptive leader: her courage in constantly fighting for the community’s benefits at the forefront while tackling the challenges of a responsible Director in the background.

What makes for an enabling leader?

As a Director, Courtney served as the safeguard of the YPARD Network, so that it keeps its core essence and walks the talk as a community of empowered members. She facilitated the process of getting the community to assess and articulate what was good for them and to take and maintain strategic directions towards their collective goals. Working with Courtney helped me to confirm that Humility, Trust, Flexibility as well as being Strategic, Driven and Straight to the point were the key assets of an enabling leader.

Particularly, in a world of constant solicitations with few resources, Courtney made the difference by prioritizing efforts: focusing on few strategic and thorough global projects and providing restless efforts for ensuring their success. Check the research on Today’s skills and competencies needed for the youth in agriculture, the mentoring program, the research on the needs and aspirations of the youth in the MENA region. Leading is knowing the way and keeping the team on track so that they use their strength effectively.

Also, while International Development efforts are led by institutions with rigid structures and mechanisms: a model largely recognized as the standard for an “organized” structure, Courtney dared keeping a flexible model for YPARD: one that enables all the teams to have maximum freedom of action while serving their collective goals, and one that enables YPARD to evolve and meet its organic needs as a fast-paced growing network. For instance, the business plan of YPARD is conceived collectively and in a way that it provides a clear global framework while giving space for national, regional and global teams to design their own activities based on their specific needs.

Courtney inspired an agile structure that provides members with the space to nurture their own drive, be creative, innovative, and to do “less” but do it well.

Are you ready for it?

What it taught us with the years and experience is that an enabling leader needs you to be responsive. From young ages, we have been taught to recognize strength in assertive leaders and to follow their lead as subordinate. Thus, being a disruptive leader means engaging a team into deconstructing the cultural references we have grown up with so that we can fully open up to becoming driven and collaborative individuals.

It means that you will only be able to experience the freedom and ease of working with a supportive leader if you adopt the right attitude in response. You will only benefit from their ability to help to prioritize activities and to involve you if you are able to listen to and trust their strategic guidance as a safeguard. You will also have to show them that they were right to grant you their trust in the first place by ensuring genuine teamwork and result that will earn their trust in the long term. This will require that you communicate about your challenges and ideas with depth and that you bring creative input aligned with the overall strategy.

While there is an increasing number of theoretical articles supporting agile leadership, I am still to see the traditional model of so-called “high-level” positions to be challenged in the international development arena. Only then will we be able to authentically work towards equity and fair development. That’s where Courtney brings hope and made of the past six years an incredible human adventure of individual and collective growth.

To an unsung disruptive leader. May Courtney Paisley’s leadership keep flourishing more response-able individuals and strong collective actions towards sustainable development.

Photo credit: Flickr FAO forestry

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Saturday, 04 February 2023

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