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How Prison Design Holds Unexpected Leadership Lessons with Sarah Paddick

Kate recently sat down with Architect Sarah Paddick on the Huddle Leadership Podcast to discuss, of all things, how prisons here in Australia are designed. The idea of getting leadership lessons from prison design might seem counterintuitive. Yet, the conversation with Sarah offers a unique lens for reexamining our assumptions about how we lead our teams. We were inspired by the conversation and wanted to challenge the idea that perhaps, we as leaders, are making and acting upon assumptions that aren't actually working for us.

We've distilled some key takeaways, and tangible things that any modern leader can implement in their business today. We'd love to hear your thoughts on how helpful and effective these actions are for you. Leave a comment below.

Examine the Invisible Architecture of Your Workplace

Sarah highlights the negative consequences of harsh prison designs built solely around restriction. Take a critical look at your workplace – not just the physical space, but the policies, communication styles, and unspoken rules that shape the employee experience. Are these "designs" based on fear and control? Do they hinder creativity, engagement, and ultimately, results?

Action Item:  Audit your current systems and processes. Identify areas where you might be unintentionally fostering a restrictive environment and brainstorm alternatives that promote trust and autonomy.

Build Bridges with Lived Experience

A transformative lesson Sarah learned was the importance of consulting those whose lives her designs directly impacted. How can you gain deeper empathy for the diverse experiences within your team?

Action Item: Create avenues for open, honest feedback. Anonymous surveys are a start, but actively seek out face-to-face conversations with people at different levels and backgrounds within your organisation. Foster a culture where candor is valued, not feared. (If you'd like some additional support with this, the Huddle can help facilitate this for you. Please get in touch!)

Break the Cycle of Trauma – Focus on Resilience

Many incarcerated individuals have faced tremendous trauma. In our workplaces, past mistakes, lack of opportunity, or other challenges might hold people back. Leaders must shift towards support and growth.

Action Item:  Invest in mentorship programs and professional development that prioritises potential, not just past performance. (Our OPEL Program is a great example of professional leadership training in a small group setting.) Examine policies around background checks in hiring practices – create pathways for those committed to change and growth.

From Punishment to Potential

Prisons designed for rehabilitation provide opportunities for growth and development. How can this translate to leadership? Stop solely focusing on deficits and actively cultivate individuals' strengths.

Action Item:  Create systems for meaningful positive feedback and recognition. Invest in training, upskilling, and opportunities for employees to take ownership of projects that play to their unique talents.

True leadership extends beyond profits and productivity. Just as Sarah considers the larger societal context, modern leaders must tackle the unspoken biases and prejudices that create barriers to reintegration for formerly incarcerated individuals.

By dismantling the invisible prisons within our own leadership practices, we create not only more humane workplaces, but a more just and equitable society for all.

Check out the whole conversation between Sarah and Kate below. Don't forget to subscribe to The Huddle Leadership Podcast wherever you listen, so you never miss an episode.


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