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Craig Churchill - Alumnus 2010

Written by Judy Whiteman, Network Connector at Leadership NZ

When Craig Churchill started the Leadership NZ Programme in 2010 he went in thinking it would be more about sharpening and adding to his existing leadership toolkit and that it would in some way make him better.


Well he was in for a shake-up and a journey of learning that continues today! He realised the Programme “was not about developing my corporate skill base. It challenged and stripped away my views on traditional leadership that I had until then thought to be okay.” The leaders who spoke on the Programme who inspired him were not “the traditional corporate” ones he expected on his radar. As a result he got a better understanding about New Zealand, its place in the world and what’s needed to make it better.

It challenged and stripped away my views on traditional leadership that I had until then thought to be okay.

This has stood Craig in good stead as little did he know back then one of the greatest leadership challenges he would face would be the Canterbury earthquakes and the impact they would have on his team and business. “This had a huge impact on our team and without a doubt, some of the Leadership NZ experiences gained really added value … things like bringing together cross-functional groups to provide the best support to help our team and community, right down to intangible things like simply just being present, sitting down with people and listening.” Craig believes he listens more and is more empathetic and engaging as a leader. Those around him have noticed changes.

Craig’s glass-half-full mindset is evident as he explains that the earthquakes provided a great opportunity to think outside the square and reset the business model more to the needs of a changing environment. “It’s not often you get a chance to sit down with a clean sheet of paper and do the things you have always talked about doing to your business.” Whilst it’s been a tough two years he is pleased to see the benefits coming through. “Our people and business are much stronger as a result.”

Perhaps one of the biggest impacts of Leadership NZ on Craig has been his “broadening” both inside and outside of his day job. The Leadership NZ Programme influenced him to think outside of his traditional corporate sphere and what it takes to be a leader in NZ, to open himself up to leadership styles and situations that are outside his comfort zone. “To think about what I give back as a leader and not just what I take.” Craig is now more connected to leaders outside of his industry which obviously benefits his organisation.

Working with community and iwi leaders really challenged some of Craig’s traditional business leadership assumptions. Things like having long-term plans and goals beyond traditional business cycles, the value of delivering more for less, having passion about your cause and having success measured in the actual difference you make, not what you earn. “The funny thing is you don’t actually realise this until you experience it.”

Community involvement is central to Leadership NZ’s ethos and Craig has enjoyed working with a number of not-for-profit groups. Currently he is the joint Chair of DARE Foundation, a Canterbury youth life skills programme. When asked what advice he has for future leaders, it’s no surprise when Craig says... “easy, spend some time supporting a community group/NFP, your skills are more valued and appreciated than you think. The rewards will exceed your expectations and will outshine what you think now were your greatest leadership achievements. The more diverse the organisation you support, the greater the learning and satisfaction.”