by Rebecca Sinclair, Director - Academic, College of Creative Arts at Massey University
Now I’m not one for omens, but we’d had some major shake-ups. First, our comfortable view of the global geopolitical landscape had taken a major hit, then only a few days later we’d been given a tectonic jolt courtesy of the Kekerengu Fault. Three more days on and it was time for our final session together.
We were rattled. And it took its toll. We began the session several players down. We were hyper-aware of the gaps, the fissures, the not-quite-wholeness. There were quake fall-out absences, end-of-year madness absences, major deadline absences, personal distress absences. And each was missed. Each was felt.
Because that is what this Programme does. Connects us all to each other in ways we did not expect. Reminds us of our raw and unconditional human-ness, and allows us to feel it in our bones.
Waitakere Estate. Te Wao Nui a Tiriwa. Enveloped by uninterrupted stands of rainforest. Ponga. Kauri. Tawa. Kahikatea. Rimu. Looking out over Auckland as though its towers and office blocks were no more than a miniature model-scape. A perfect metaphor for the mindfulness of stopping and just noticing that this year has been all about. A chance to focus on being, rather than always, always doing.
We began with visions. Frank Olsson’s songs, Minnie Baragwanath’s dreams, and Craig Donaldson’s acronyms framed our morning and we gained three more unique perspectives on leadership and the future. We returned the favour, acutely aware of our visual-centric assumptions in presenting slides about ‘visions’ to partially-sighted Minnie. Mindful of language, of accessibility, of underlying societal structures.
Our visions for a future Aotearoa were spoken from around the room: a collection of interwoven chapters, each individual voice taking up the story where the last left off and inflecting it with their particular tone, stepping in for our missing friends and holding their parts too. Accompanied by beautiful images. And it just flowed, in space and in time, imagining an Aotearoa that is equitable, diverse, compassionate, sustainable, intergenerational, whole, connected, mindful, creative, empathetic, reconciled, well.
Then on day two, Rod Oram, business journalist, broadcaster, holistic thinker, imaginer; gently challenging us to think about the space between social foundations and environmental limits. How did we see humanity’s place in the world? Connected. Disconnected. Home. F***ed. Matemateaone.
And Louise. Always Louise. Louise filling us up. Louise not letting us hide. Louise sharing herself and her wisdom and her laughter at life. And phrases like “developmental invitation”. Louise lightly asking the hardest questions of us, that always get to the truth and allow us to recognise our own buttons.
We delved into our egos and laughed at the size of them! We explored paradigm shifts and collusion and bliss. And she likened us to water — fluid, unpredictable, never quite doing what you want it to, but having the power to wear away rock. (I’d also add “beautiful to look at”, “cool” and “lovely to float in”).
We were inducted into the Leadership NZ alumni whanau. We closed the loop with Jo Brosnahan. We shared four more lives-lived-less-ordinary. Sina. Nicola. Annette. Louise. And we connected. Through tears, and hysterics, and stories, and eating, and dancing, and drinking, and karaoke. Through being human.
Then the last day. In western societies we don’t pay much attention to endings. We are more interested in beginnings. The last session of our time together, though, gave us the space to end well. It drew on traditions of poroporoaki, and generously intensified and valued the transition for all of us. It was as though time was slowed right down and expanded into a moment where we could (mindfully) pay attention to each other’s goodbyes. And then carry a handwritten piece of each other home, to remember and refill our buckets.
We graduated that night, transformed in our glad rags, in a glittering ceremony at Q Theatre. Starting with Rewi Spraggon’s mihi, and Eli’s powerful response, we were honoured with words of inspiration from Dame Susan Devoy, from Louise, and from our own poetic Justin, and heartfelt Sarah. Along the way we had guitar-fuelled waiata, a Tagi family haka, baby Zoe crying, and hugs and kisses of various shapes, sizes and durations. Our final gift to each other was a specially chosen word, which the recipient heard for the first time on stage.
We have ended one phase of our journey and begin the next, connected forever through the stone of our beautiful taonga, Whakaaroaroa — each carved from the same piece of West Coast pounamu by Karam Meuli — worn over our hearts.
In retrospect, those political and geological tremors provided a fitting backdrop for the final stage of a Programme that has shaken us all to our core. I don’t think any of us would say that we stand now on the same ground as we did back in February. Our terrain has shifted. We have shifted. It’s a leadership Programme like no other and it’s difficult to describe it in words. Because it’s all about presence — being, feeling, connecting, breathing — as well as thinking and doing. It’s about bringing your whole self, fully and vulnerably, to leadership, and understanding that self as part of a much larger whole. And it’s about radical empathy, for yourself and for everyone.
Such a perfect day. I’m glad I spent it with you.