Student Research Feature: Erika Bailey

Headshot of Erika Bailey.

The School of Leadership Studies would like to extend our heartfelt congratulations to Erika Bailey on the completion of a Master’s Thesis titled, A Commitment to Embodying Joy in the Service of Social Justice: Embodied Leadership when Exploring Difference. This thesis is available through RRU’s library.

We asked Erika a few questions about this research and this is what she said:

What are some key takeaways from your thesis that would be helpful for other leaders?

The body is an integral part of leading. In those challenging moments when we feel most vulnerable, shaken, triggered, or charged-up, pause. We can ask ourselves what is at the root of this embodied feeling, and who / what do our potential decisions centre? As leaders, we can take a yes-and stance. Yes, the moment is uncomfortable, and honour our roles to mobilize more socially just actions, decisions, processes, and outcomes. In this, we may connect to a larger purpose, remain curious and open, and creatively engage with others. These conditions may invite joy in.

How is the organization moving change forward based on your work?

Through my first-person action research inquiry, the organization was a supporter, rather than centred in the project. They remain curious about what embodiment and Whiteness may lend to their work in group relations and social justice. They also appreciated gaining insights into a group relations participant’s lived experiences, which we shared in a blog post.
I also gathered insights that may also support SoLS. I proposed that action learning research and first-person action research are both viable methodologies for thesis-stream students. I also offered insights into processes and possible updates to the guide for first-person action research projects.

What surprised you about your experience of the thesis process?

Here are just five of the many:

  1. My diverse inquiry team was critical to my process;
  2. The crystallization of ideas I gained through submitting a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council proposal in the first year;
  3. The influence of imposter syndrome, even though this is my second master's degree;
  4. How much self-work is needed to conduct research; it is like leadership. Your fingerprints are all over the work and that is immense accountability to relationships.
  5. Joy is hard. There remains little research on joy. Of all my inquiry topics– embodiment, White/Whiteness, social justice – it was a joy that garnered the most heated discussions, disagreements, and debates.

How are you applying lessons learned from your whole MA-Leadership journey?

The process required me to change my behaviours and notice my thought patterns, in particular around perfectionism and self-judgment. I will always be learning as a leader; now embodied practices can support me to make more socially just responses. I have (mostly) stopped chasing joy. Instead, I aim to nurture its conditions. For me, this includes curiosity, vulnerability, deep connection to self, community, and a larger purpose, creativity, and time in nature. Of these, the greatest gifts are connections: my classmates, instructors, and those who walked beside me during my learning.