Sara Pepper – Learning from Creative/Cultural Leaders

Source: Planet of Success

You know the person in your organization who is always smiling. The friend that whenever you see them walk into a room you feel your entire self light up. The person that when they talk, you not only feel inspired, you feel like they could lead you anywhere. Well, for me the person that person is Sara Pepper.

Sara is intelligent, empathetic and beautiful inside and out. Her female mind makes me want to talk to her for ages so I can learn all she has experienced throughout her life and write her story for others to share in. One day I’ll ask her if I can do just that. Hang out with her for a few months and document her life and her thinking. Not only will I learn a lot, but it would be loads of fun.  

about smiling …

I can still remember when I met Sara. I received this email out of the blue. She’d just started as the Marketing and Communications Manager at Leadership and Management Wales (LMW). She emailed to ask if we could meet up for a coffee and chat about social media. Coffee, social media and , how could I not say yes. It was like my ideal geeky girl date. The only thing that would have made it my dream date was if we were had it in at day spa at some swish hotel. I have been told however that laptops and the serenity of a day spa perhaps don’t go together. We’ll see.

Sara and I met in the coffee shop of my business school. Her new office was attached to the school and costa coffee at Park Place hadn’t opened yet. So we resigned ourselves to the convenience of a walk downstairs and the average coffee dispensed from button press machines for our first coffee meet-up. We shared stories about our backgrounds and our experiences with social media and social networking. Not just the mediated kind sat behind a computer screen, but that which still occurs face to face at events, seminars and parties.

That is the thing about networking and conversations, it is not so much about establishing a connection [physically or technically] it is about the connectedness you feel when you meet and share with someone.

With Sara I found a kindred soul. A soul who smiled with her eyes, her heart and her mouth. A soul that felt that the world of leadership was not all business theory, mentoring schemes and masculine hierarchies used to instill authority and control. Like me, she also smiled when she talked. This doesn’t mean we are not serious business , it just means we have a natural disposition to see the glass as half full or overflowing.

Sara and I also share a mutual interest in leadership.

Learning about

There are a lot of books on leadership. I have created an Amazon Listmania List of books [on Social Leadership] that I have found useful on the topic. I’ve added the forthcoming title by Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead to this list. It is out in March 2013, and poses to be an interesting read as draws on her experiences, especially while working as COO at Facebook.

One important understandings of leadership is that it is not about titles or hierarchies.

Leadership is about networks and what we do — what we practice. Leadership is an ongoing, fluid process of social influence that people [not just one person] can enlist to aid, support and inspire others to think, practice or be a certain way [1]. It is about networks and social capital.

This is why developments in social technologies are changing the way many people and organizations think and behave. And the leaders, the real leaders are not the ones at the top of the organization. They are throughout it and they are many. As a person in a senior role in an organizational structure, that is you have some obscure title, if you don’t know who these people are; are not part of their conversations and connected to their networks, you’ll risk not listening and learning what is needed to change. 

I’d say for me the most important characteristic of a leader or leading group today are their social+digital practices especially that of listening and sharing [with humility]; coupled with a will or courage to act.     

When you think about leadership or a leader, think about the people who are great social connectors, connecting to people throughout and across networks; and people who have the social and emotional intelligence to listen and inspire. People who encourage and share connectedness with others. This could come from what they believe in and/or how they interact with others.

Arron Swartz for example had a passionate belief in the social purpose of open sharing of information. His actions and belief have lead others to act, and act collectively to demand progress. Or consider the theatre work of Tanya Saracho. Frustrated with how female latina/hispana actors where typecast in certain roles, she set-up her own theatre company inspired by collaboration of the hispanic female voice. She created the place she wanted to work and has inspired others to think differently.

If you look around you, you will probably be able to think of people who are great social connectors, listeners and who also have a will or courage to act. Be it sharing their ideas or put their ideas into action.

Sara Pepper is a great example of an emerging social leader in Wales. A social leader with an ideology grounded in the creativity and emergent thinking of the cultural arts.

Learning from our cultural leaders …

When Sara told me of her background in Arts management, and her passion in I knew I had met a very rare soul. Sara’s 12 years of marketing, event project development and management experience gained specifically the creative and cultural industries encouraged me to learn more about her world.

Before joining LMW in 2009, she worked at Wales Millennium Centre on a Cultural Leadership Programme Peach Placement, shadowing CEO Judith Isherwood. Her work as a producer and programmer at creative venues and events around the world has helped her to develop knowledge and experience of project management, marketing, media relations, event production and the development of strategic partnerships and networks. She is also a member of the  Women in Management South Wales Committee.

Sara works at LMW promoting and organizing learning events that bring people together [social connectivity] from across business and industry networks is helping to inspire change in how we think and act in especially small and medium organizations across Wales. From Sara and other creative and cultural leaders in Wales [John @NTW, Allison @Nofitstate Circus, @CatherinePaskell, Neil @DizzyJam, Carol @ChapterArts], I have learnt that …

leadership while in part is the serious business of leading others, it involves creativity and connectivity; and that traditional business has much to learn from the creative and cultural sectors about developing connections+connectedness across groups, teams and entire organizations — especially in times of change.

Learning to hula-hoop …

The fun part, the really fun part of meeting Sara is learning about hula-hooping. Sarah served on the Board of Trustees for NoFit State Circus, the UK’s largest contemporary circus company that calls Wales home. A role that clearly aligned with her love of the art of hula-hopping (amongst other performance skills).

I look forward to one-day attending a creative leadership event she organizes, perhaps for a group senior executives suited and booted, where she gets them all on mass to hula-hoop. As the digital diva I am, I’ll be there to record, upload and share it.

To Sara, I dedicate this #wowwales tribute.

Sara Pepper, a #wowwales colleague, mentor, and friend.


[1] Chemers, M. (1997). An Integrative Theory of Leadership. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers. 

[2] Amazon Listmania List of Leadership Books


Read more about my #Wowwales Insight Series. From the 9th February to the 9th of March, I’ll post a new blog post every day with a tribute to someone who has inspired, mentored or encouraged me during my 10 years here in Wales. 

You can follow my insight series @drkellypage with the hashtag #wowwales OR why not join me and contribute your own blog tribute to the Women of your World (#WOW) — women who inspire, mentor or encourage you. 

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