What is self-leadership? Move through life & work with a greater sense of wholeness

Our turbulent times call for us to take radical responsibility for how we are showing up here now. Self-leadership rests on the principle that change ‘out there’- in the world, in our organisations, in our communities, workplaces and neighbourhoods, begins with change ‘in here’, in ourselves: in our minds, hearts, choices and behaviours.

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Emily Johnsson
Emily Johnsson
Nurturing changemakers for a whole world.

Although it may feel like a new buzzword or trend, the idea of learning to lead ourselves well through life and work has existed as a key concept in human community building across cultures, since ancient times.

Futurists talk about us living in a change of era, rather than in an era of change.

Self-leadership rests on the principle that change ‘out there’- in the world, in our organisations, in our communities, workplaces and neighbourhoods, begins with change ‘in here’, in ourselves: in our minds, hearts, choices and behaviours.

Now more than ever are we asked to make sure we are resilient, inspired, purposeful and connected, so that we can navigate well from a more whole, connected, grounded and present place inside us, make a positive contribution and last a long time.

Burned our people aren’t equipped, after all, to serve a burning planet, as Susi Moser once said.

Self-leadership is about taking radical responsibility for who and how we want to be as human beings. Here now. In these shifting, messy middle times.

The kind of person we want to show up as in our lifetime. For ourselves, our loved ones, in our work, businesses, as a citizen, as a cell in the great web of life on planet Earth.

It’s about how we want to experience life, even when we are under pressure or navigating great challenges. It’s about how we want to feel about our lives on our last day, and it’s about what we are leaving behind when we are gone.

In Wish Tree, we often talk about integrity in the same breath as self-leadership.
Integrity, we believe, is about having the courage to look deeply into our own eyes at the end of each day and feel like we did our best.

Integrity is saying “I am not perfect, but I am enough. I accept myself unconditionally here and now. And there is room for unlearning, learning, healing and growth, all at the same time”.

Integrity is also about the courage to translate our values into action. To interrupt harmful ways of being and doing, whether in ourselves, or in the communities or world of which we are a part. To be an embodiment of what we stand for.

For a whole world.

It’s saying yes when we mean yes and no when we mean no. And it’s about the courage to choose to be one person in all areas of our lives. As such, authenticity is a function of integrity and central to leading ourselves well, whatever the context.

Committing to self-leadership is the beginning of the end of many things in our lives.


It’s the end of proving, in whatever way we do it, that we are worthy and good enough.

The end of constantly performing or producing so that we will be accepted – by ourselves and others.

It’s the end of perfectionism– the belief that if we do everything without fault and have all the answers, then we have earned the right to be here, to belong, to be appreciated, loved.

It’s the end of pleasing so that we will feel safe, included and not rejected.

It’s the end of fixing and rescuing and saving others and what feels broken, in an attempt to feel more whole or safe or worthy inside of ourselves.

The end of chasing something outside of ourselves we think will complete us.

It’s the end of pretending, in all its many guises.

And the end of frequent exhaustion, over-giving and fierce independence.

It’s also the start of many things in our lives.

The start of living, speaking, creating and leading in alignment with our values and our own inner compass.

The beginning of being, doing, living, leading, in ways that work with life, not against it.

Ways that enable us to remember what it means to be humans living in alignment with all of life, not separate from it.

Self-leadership is the start of knowing more about the difference we want to make in the here and now, and the seeds we want to plant for the people of the distant future. It’s the start of knowing more about our unique role and place on the pitch in team humanity.

It’s the start of having a bigger picture awareness and relationship to the wider world. Of knowing more about why it is that the issues we are facing as humanity are here now, and not before. And where we and our specific contribution can be found on the greater map of it all.

It’s about becoming more conscious and mindful that what we do and don’t do through our words, actions and choices affect other people and the ecosystems of the world – both near and afar, now and in future.

Embracing self-leadership is learning to look after ourselves better – mind, body, heart – so that we can feel more resilient, present and enjoy our lives, no matter what.

It’s the start of learning to relate to others – at work or at home – in open-hearted ways that allow deeper connection, healthier boundaries, more authentic interactions. It’s about embracing the courage to be seen, heard, held and supported. And doing the same for others from a place of trust and commitment.

Self-leadership helps us to see ourselves as cells interconnected with everything and everyone around us.

It enables us to feel more resilient, inspired, purposeful, connected. Whole.

And wholeness is not only essential to balance, innovation, aliveness and thriving.

It is intrinsic to how life itself works.

In these topsy-turvey, turbulent times, the world needs people who are empowered in their hearts, minds and behaviour to see, feel, be and do life and leadership differently. To do changemakership differently. In Wish Tree we are devoted to nurturing you to show up embodied, nourished, present and whole through a diversity of life-giving opportunities such as immersions, coaching, workshops, courses all underpinned by our simple but powerful self-leadership model, born from over 20 years in the field of human development, learning and growth.

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What is Wholeness? Embracing the fullness of life in all directions

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Emily Johnsson | November 25, 2023
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About Emily & White Supremacy

Emily is a space holder and self-leadership coach to changemakers. She has over 20 years experience in the field of human development, learning and growth, and leads the coaching and consultancy company Wish Tree since 2011. Her work centres around wholeness – whole humans, whole communities, whole organisations, whole ecosystems. A whole world. Her changemakership is therefore dedicated to clearing distortions and fragmentations that relate to our perceptions of separation.

Emily has been exposed to and ‘sat with’ systemic issues around race, racism, privilege and injustice her whole life. She was born in Camden, London, in the late 1970s to a Swedish immigrant single mum and spent her first formative years in a highly culturally and ethnically diverse setting. As a baby, Emily and her mum lived in a bedsit in a shared house with a Black British family. Her first memory of Father Christmas was of him as a Bangladeshi man. Emily’s mum worked with refugee families and in Children’s Homes in inner city London, and since she had no access to child care opportunities, Emily joined her at work. For a while, Emily had an older Black British foster sister called Debbie. She was very often the only white child in the community of children of which she was a part.

Emily moved to Sweden with her mum as a child and as a teenager became involved with, and led, antiracism youth work in her local town through her school and council-initiated networks in the 1990s.

Her mum, who was active in the peace-and- environmental movement and who had been involved as an ally in the civil rights movement in the US on her travels there, introduced her to Black feminist and activist writers such as Alice Walker, Toni Morrison and Audre Lord, and actively taught her about white privilege, white supremacy and the truth of colonialism. She was also taught about the importance of learning from Indigenous wisdom keepers in order to heal and evolve as humanity, and to (in those days) stop climate change.

In contrast, on her father’s side, Emily is of British Colonial descent. Emily’s grandmother was born in Zimbabwe to Scottish sheep-farmers. Her grandfather came from a poor English background but won a scholarship to Cambridge University to study law. As many young British men of his time who sought “adventure, a good job and travel”, Emily’s grandfather joined the colonial service in the final days of the British Empire, and served in several African countries as a high-ranking colonial officer. He spoke Zulu and Emily’s father spoke Swazi and Swahili before being sent to Britain as a child to attend boarding school, thousands of miles away from his parents.

Although Emily did not grow up with her father or his family, she eventually came to know them and have a relationship with them, which involved taking responsibility for understanding and healing her own familial and ancestral relationship to colonialism and white supremacy.

In this process, she came to see, feel and understand first hand and close up, the deeper psychological workings of the system of white supremacy, the colonial mind and its intimate links with narcissism, perfectionism, patriarchy and extractive economies and behaviours.

Between 2003-2015, Emily worked as a learning researcher and Access, Diversity and Inclusion enabler in the Arts & Cultural Sector, deeply rooted in the Convention of the Rights of the Child and the Human Rights Convention. She worked across the U.K and Scandinavia contributing to a number of large scale change projects, self-evaluation initiatives, conferences and trainings such as “Access for All”, “Inspiring Learning for All”, “Belonging – the Voices of London’s Refugees”, “The West Indian Front Room”, “Kultur och Fritid för Alla”, “Vidgat Deltagande”, “In this curriculum I don’t exist”, “In between two worlds – London teenagers’ ideas about Black History, Belonging and being British” to name a few. She worked with a wide range of marginalised communities as well as with leaders and directors holding white privilege, facilitating necessary and brave conversations challenging the status quo.

Emily has worked across many cultures and languages around the world from Sri Lanka to South Africa, Costa Rica and India to Romania and Denmark, continuously reflecting on and challenging white saviour tendencies. In this process has come to observe how white supremacy and racism works differently in different countries depending on context and history.

In 2020, in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, Emily became a loud voice in the Wellness industry by calling in leaders bypassing white supremacy through ‘love and light’ rhetoric, exceptionalism, colourblindness and virtue signalling. She closed down several online coaching circles because white participants were unwilling to dive deeper into their own internalised white supremacy, and rendered the spaces not only additionally unsafe, but traumatising for BIPOC clients. Her platform and large facebook community for coaches and wellbeing facilitators centred BIWOC-led anti-racism conversations as a response.

Emily is a skilled and fiercely loving coach and space-holder with many years experience of creating safe spaces for accountability, healing, integration and growth to take place.

She is dedicated to her own ongoing learning, healing and unlearning of covert white supremacy. Examples of this are continuous learning from a wide range of anti-racism educators, authors and activists from around the world.

This bio has not been written with the intention of centring Emily in the context of Me & White Supremacy, but to transparently share about her background, values, skills and experience in order for you to make a conscious decision to choose her as a space-holder, or not.

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