Written by Grant Palmer, Programme Coordinator, New Zealand Army, Wellington
It is my privilege to reflect on Retreat 8, Fearless and Shameless Leadership. One of the intriguing things about the Leadership NZ Programme is the mystery of what lies ahead on the journey and why the locations are chosen for the topics of learning. I was certainly intrigued to see what Waiheke Island would have in store; particularly that it has recently been rated in the top five regions in the world to visit by the Lonely Planet Guide. To centre myself into the environment and begin the process of reflection, I started the journey the day before the retreat. Arriving by ferry and then a local bus through to Onetangi brought about a sense of calm, peace and appreciation of how beautiful NZ nature is, and the people appreciating the environment. Onetangi has a magnificent pristine beach and water, but before I could walk it I, fortunately, bumped into James (2015 Cohort) along the waterfront who had the same idea I did. We decided to explore the rest of the island together. Before I knew it we were driving at pace around the island in a Porsche Boxter convertible with the top down. For those who know James, this was certainly the start of the Fearless and Shameless Leadership journey.
Day One started with understanding fear and shame. The morning session begins with an introduction to the session from [Programme Director] Louise, joined by Rosie Walford, co-facilitator for the session. The venue is Onetangi community hall. You can sense the stepped history and community involvement that created the hall and imagine the kids’ plays that have happened over the ages on the small stage at the front. I reflected on the fear people may have had preparing to perform in front of an audience. Louise and Rosie set up with blankets on the floor, in the middle is a lit candle and an array of toanga and things representing nature, we sit in a large circle (surprise) on bean bags and cushions. The scene is set. I learnt that it is necessary to have fear as a leader, to know what your fears are and how you deal with them. Fear and shame go together. Shame can be collective. Fear of social can mean people carry shame for things that others have done in the past. We explored working with our deepest life and wisdom, and how do we bring them into leadership? If as a leader we know about our spiral of fear, the better you know how to catch it and deal with it.
The panel arrived consisting of Frank Olsson, Courtney Sina Meredith and Guy Ryan. They were asked to speak on how they have worked with this theme Fearless and Shameless Leadership in their leadership journey.
Frank, who is a Swedish Kiwi, has 'a strong belief in bringing purpose and joy to the workplace to enhance results and the work experience, trying to make life ‘a dance rather than a slog.’ ‘Purpose’ includes trying to contribute to the good society and inviting people of all backgrounds to participate on equal terms. He has enjoyed bringing a new management approach to each place and enhancing performance by a motivational and relationship focus. He believes in flat structures, taking fear out of the work place, minimising hierarchy, de-emphasizing authority and supporting each and every team member to be the best he or she can be.
Frank is an incredibly colourful character. It struck me that everything he said has a deep meaning, yet he has the art of saying it with humour and seeing the humour in situations. Frank’s opening was in song. From Frank we learnt that shame can be healthy, particularly relating to values. Building strong communities is true leadership, in that the core of leadership is how your people feel. In work, performance management systems often create fear. We need to trust people. Parental care creates the cornerstone for life. Look to build friendships and networks. If you create a web of these networks then when things are stormy it will hold you up. Having credit with friends is the best commodity. Be able to thrive and grow. The ultimate goal is to serve the community and that will cost you your shirt if you do not serve the community well. The test is to ask yourself how does what I do benefit the community. It's what you discover that matters. A true leader adds value to staff, use humour and be generous. Being kind and generous has a payback. Look to the strengths each person brings. Aspire, set goals and apply self-drive. Remember it is never too late to repair neglect. Have grit and tenacity. Being happy is a driver of influence. The best of times is now.
Our second panelmember was Courtney. She currently leads the development and implementation of commercial and community opportunities across the Faculty of Creative Arts at Manukau Institute of Technology in her role as Partnerships Manager. From Courtney, we learnt how we should push ourselves beyond the moments of shamelessness and fearlessness. To feel the fear every day. There will be an immense push to pass through the fear and stay grounded. At times, we can be surrounded by cliff faces from all sides. Think who is it we are trying to lead. Hear what challenged the fear that we feel we aren't enough, it is then you find yourself in the most powerful place.
Finally, Guy Ryan: Winner of young New Zealander of the year award. He founded Inspiring Stories, which operates nationwide with the vision to see every young New Zealander unleash their potential to change the world. Now in its fifth year, Inspiring Stories has an impressive track record of programmes and partnerships. From Guy, we learnt to experience fear every day. That life begins at the edge of your comfort zone. It is there we grow most. There is a massive drive to community and environment, to be purpose driven organisations. It can be a most intense and intimidating experience. Live the dream, back yourself, believe in yourself.
Put a piece of your heart on the line. Step outside your comfort zone and stand up for what you believe.
The ‘working with fear and how it is it driving you’ workshop covered how our brain deals with fear in stress situations, the response being - fight or flight, we are hijacked, the response overtakes to cut through past rules to take over. This is reflex response behaviour. We explored ourselves to look at what sets us off. For me it can be unpredictable drivers on the road, my all of body sensation (heckles up) become alert quickly. Behaviour of others, for example people that portray arrogance or shed dominance over others, cut off or ignore others. Other triggers can be an abuse of power, attack on your reputation or integrity. What goes on in our mind is not actually true, it disables us for a few seconds By interrupting we can work out what is happening. This is a trait of a good leader. Look to what lays beneath, understand where people are coming from, their values and beliefs.
Shame needs three things to exist: secrecy, silence and judgement. Leadership can be isolating. We have a need to display professional camouflage, other people’s expectations, give yourself permission to just be yourself, acknowledge your own fears, understand them, find out what the triggers are and what are your reactions to them.
We conducted exploring our core, our essence and then onto one of my favourite sessions, My Life. I am always awe-inspired by my cohorts, it is this time that we get to find out about each other, what influenced us, made us what we are as a person and sharing a piece of yourself. It struck me that this is an example of fearless and shameless leadership, to trust in the group, dig deep and share your experiences with the group.
Day two focussed on unleashing our creativity, exploring our wildest dreams and storytelling of collective dreams. We started the morning with Steve Hollins with his session on 'feel the fear and do it anyway'. This was a highly engaging, creative, participative form of free flow creation individually, in small groups and as a collective group. For me, this was about releasing your fears, having the trust with the group, being innovative and creative. It was a practical exercise in being fearless and at times shameless.
The highlight of the day was unleashing our creativity with a ‘nature art’ session. A group walk into a natural reserve area saw us utilising natural things (mainly dead items lying around) to create sculptures that told a story, for many a look into the future to what the next 10 years held as a vision, for others to represent a meaning in their life, or what ever you want it to be. The diversity and artistic creation of our cohort is always amazing. Everyone’s individuality shines. We had some good fun with expressing visions in unique ways. My sculpture represented the essence of life. It formed upwards from a water source and, believe it or not, it actually had a live trout swimming around the base.
In closing, I would like to acknowledge Louise, Rosie, Annette, Nicola and our six cohorts that presented their ‘My Life’ on this retreat. You have provided us another unique step on our leadership journey.