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Shilpa Jain's picture
February 5, 2024
by Shilpa Jain

I just received one of the sweetest compliments I have ever been given.

Nandita, at our Asian Diaspora Jam team retreat last week, said to me, “Your leadership is friendship.”

I was deeply moved to hear this, not just because it spoke to one of the values I hold most dear, but also because there was no ‘like’ in it, as in, “Your leadership is like friendship.” It was simply a declaration — a statement of fact rather than a simile — and tapped into something profound for me and, perhaps, crucial for these times.

I have been thinking a lot about leadership for the last 35 years of my life. My Capricorn Fire Dragon self has no choice in the matter. And yet, I never put it this way before. I have thought about shared leadership; distributed power; the ripple effect of a leadership team (as in, ‘So goes the team, so goes the Jam’); seeing each person as a leader; how a leader is ‘anyone who wants to contribute at this time’; all of us co-leading and weaving towards a common goal; co-creating a way of being as leaders; and a myriad of other forms/concepts/frameworks of reciprocal, interconnected, interdependent leadership.

At the same time, I have also believed that “friendship is a core engine of social change.” From my early passions for environmental and human rights work as a tween and teenager, to my youth-focused creative work in college, to my community-driven work with Shikshantar in India, to my time as Executive Director at YES!, to this current transitional period in my life — over and over again, I have seen that relationships are at the root of Everything. Befriending people, and having them be friends with me, has launched hundreds of projects and organizations; generated tons of books, videos, podcasts, and articles; moved millions of dollars towards healing and transformation, and simply made it possible for people who care about things in the world to also feel cared for, uplifted and sustained, so that they can do and be the change they want to see in the world. I have seen friendship make leadership come alive in all ways, shapes, levels and contexts.

So, could it work in reverse? Could leadership be seen as friendship? Is it as simple as caring for another and...