leadership and origami

Researching authentic leadership for a presentation series, I was drawn to the idea that leaders are grown; that they acknowledge their failings, rise to the occasion, and are on a journey – not seeking a destination (often in the form of a title).

Why origami and authentic leadership?

The goal of origami is to transform a flat sheet square of paper into a finished sculpture through folding and sculpting techniques. Essentially, origami is about the transformation of a blank piece of paper into something different, something new.

While we come in different shapes, sizes, thicknesses and so on, we all start the same, a blank piece of paper. Just a paper crane is created from a simple piece of paper, leaders are created from their experiences.

The experiences, influencers, lessons, training and approach to opportunities along the way determine WHAT we will become. Throughout our lives and career, we will fold and unfold as we transition through different roles until we finally recognise and realise who we are as individuals and as leaders.

What determines WHO we become is our response to each transition; what we learn and how we grow. Sometimes these transitions will work and other times they won’t. I, like most people, have been in this position.

What was the first role you had? Was this your lifelong dream?

My first role was working in Myer as a sales assistant. Fashion was not my dream; so not surprisingly this is not where I have landed. My life-long dream, I thought was owning a restaurant, now I am increasingly realising that the restaurant is a dream and something that I will do in the future; but what I love is engaging with people, exchanging ideas and pushing the metaphorical walls about what we believe and should do…  At this moment, I do this with a group of amazing clients and colleagues.

When learning origami, we start with a plane or a bird. Animals that are relatively easy to fold. Overtime, however, we want to grow, and as we learn, we try to create a penguin, turtle or a crane.

Throughout this process, we push boundaries, try new animals or shapes until we find one that we love. A shape we enjoy making, that gives us joy and that want to make continuously. This is what authentic leaders do.

A key element of authentic leadership theory, as distinct from many other leadership frameworks is that leadership is a journey – not a destination. And like origami, there is no one ideal shape or type of leader that is ‘best’ (contrary to what others may say!).

Throughout our careers, we will have been different forms or versions of our current self. While we may want to be a crane or a frog, our persona may not fit with who we are. Overtime we fold, unfold and refold ourselves until we establish and develop a shape that works for us. Be it a crane, a frog or an elephant.

 And here is the gem…


Authentic leaders display their creases and folds with pride.


They don’t stop because they have creases; they don’t hide and try to pretend their creases don’t exist, they just refold themselves. Over time, their creases become their story.

Transitioning from the military to sales, corporate, government and consulting has meant I have taken many forms. In the coming years, as I start to reconsider the #brules(bulls**t rules) that constrain how and what I think, my ideas and journey will continue to be shaped and re-shape. Throughout this process, the questions I will continue to ask (and I urge you to also) is…

 What is my authentic self?

 How am I showing my folds and creases with pride? 

 This article was first published on LinkedIn by  Jenni Walke on November 28, 2016.

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