Polykala Leadership Intensive Q&A – Dan Musil & Earthworker Cooperative

July 3, 2019 Polykala

Polykala Leadership Intensive Q&A – Dan Musil & Earthworker Cooperative

“If you are keen to explore leadership and change-making, willing to have your ideas challenged and opened, and ready to roll up your sleeves and practice embodied leadership, I cannot recommend this program highly enough.”

Dan Musil, Earthworker Cooperative

Dan Musil is an alumnus of our 2012 Polykala Leadership Intensive program, in this post, we catch up on Dan’s work in and how he’s using the training.

Tell us about your work in the world…

Existence is a collective exercise. I’m interested in the ways that we as human societies might (and do) live well together – with each other, with non-human others, and the environments in which we exist. I’m passionate about finding ways for us to learn, practice, develop our capacities for (unavoidable) co-existence. In the face of enormous interconnected, challenges, like global warming and economic inequality, this means being not just attentive to the ‘injustices’ as we see them now, but finding unifying positive visions for a world we want to live in, and facing squarely what must be given up and gained to achieve such worlds. These interconnected challenges heavily ‘come to ground’ in the Latrobe Valley, where I live.

This is why I’m a part of the Earthworker Cooperative, and am completing PhD research about economic transition. Earthworker is a long-running initiative arising from the trade union and environment movements, aiming to practically move us beyond a (sadly still prevalent) ‘job vs environment’ debate, and to empower us to care for each other and the planet.

Earthworker is establishing a network of democratic worker and community-owned cooperatives, which support dignified livelihoods while providing socially and environmentally useful goods and services. In doing so, Earthworker aims to bridge traditional divisions by creating and adapting practical and inclusive examples of more just and sustainable economies.

Our flagship cooperative, the Earthworker Energy Manufacturing Cooperative, is a worker-run factory manufacturing high-quality solar hot water products in the traditionally coal-dominated Latrobe Valley. Earthworker Energy demonstrates grassroots leadership in a ‘just transition’ away from fossil fuels in the Latrobe Valley. Other enterprises in the Earthworker network include the worker-owned Redgum Cleaning Cooperative ethical cleaning business and the new ‘Hope Cooperative’ run by and for asylum seekers in Australia.

Earthworker’s commitment to greater economic democracy as both means and end – embodied in our cooperative structure(s) – involves ongoing learning in the practice of every democracy, co-existence and cooperation as we learn to ‘build the road as we travel’. Exciting, but challenging work.

Why did you decide to do the Polykala Leadership Intensive?

I was drawn to the Polykala Leadership Intensive because I wanted to more deeply explore what leadership is, and develop my capacity for effective leadership and social change work. I respected Polykala’s work and wanted the chance to be challenged by, and to learn from, inspiring participants and course facilitators.

What were your expectations going into the program?

I expected to be given plenty of information and leadership tools. I hoped to have my understandings of leadership opened and expanded and to be shown how to more effectively ‘do’ leadership. I was up for being productively challenged on multiple fronts.

What was were the key things you took away from the program?

Aside from numerous practical tools and techniques practised and honed throughout the course, my understanding and approach leadership, ‘change-making’ and ‘problem-solving’ evolved considerably through the program. 

Leadership is not the same as formal authority, is never forever, and is not the same as ‘fixing problems’. Effective leadership is of a time and place, relies on authentic relationships, demands adaptability, and thrives on curiosity, not merely giving ‘answers’. Therefore the fundamental practices of listening, inquiring, connecting, and of fundamentally respecting the context and those involved is essential for any effective leadership action. The program helped develop my skills and capacity to practice and support leadership in various, uncertain contexts.

Program facilitators demonstrated, by example, the value of leadership, and I experienced first-hand the value of learning and practising through doing – everywhere, anytime. The program powerfully showed me how leadership can and does take place in myriad ways, in endless circumstances, in our personal lives and official settings. It opened me up, and helped equip me with ways to be responsive and adaptive to situations I find myself in. 

I also met, and have been deeply influenced by, interactions with interesting and inspiring people through the program. 

What was the most surprising thing about the program for you?

I was surprised how ‘everywhere/all-the-time’ the program’s content and my lessons from it have been relevant and of use. I was surprised at how what were at first difficult ideas and approaches introduced through the program, have become accessible and helpful.

How have you used what you learnt in the Polykala Leadership Intensive?

I use much of what I learnt in the Polykala Leadership intensive – in my work with Earthworker, my academic research, involvement in community groups and musical projects, close relationships, and in my everyday life and interactions. The focus of Adaptive Leadership and Polykala on deep listening, curiosity, embodied practice, make the work deeply relevant to situations I find myself in all the time.

What’s one piece of advice you would offer someone who is considering doing the program?

This program has impacted my life significantly, for the better. If you are keen to explore leadership and change-making, willing to have your ideas challenged and opened, and ready to roll up your sleeves and practice embodied leadership, I cannot recommend this program highly enough.

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