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Subject matter experts and prominent New Zealand leaders share their knowledge and engage with the audience, sparking new ideas and innovation as minds from different backgrounds converge and focus their energy on a salient issue or theme.

Mindful Leadership, A Year in Review

Talofa lava, Tena Koe

2016 is nearly over. Mindful Leadership has been our guiding theme and in a myriad of ways leaders from across our leadership whanau have worked actively to be more present, to be more mindful in our leadership.  We think that in this complex world, to balance our head and heart in leadership we need to be mindful first - putting our state of mind ahead of action.

This theme has resonated widely, and become quite topical. It’s felt especially relevant in a highly disruptive year filled with unexpected global change, political upheavals, scandals and corruption, growing poverty and socio-economic disparity, environmental and natural disasters, racial intolerance and violence, and an increased sense of hopelessness about our ability to influence change.

We have asked ourselves: How do we stay present when every moment of our day is consumed with ‘stuff’ to do, the busyness of life? We looked at how we can be mindful and treat others with profound levels of respect and compassion whilst continuing to get traction, to move things forward, create change.  We explored how we stay in touch with our greater purpose in life while achieving societal gains of success and fortune.

A very special acknowledgment of the Class of 2016 who embraced their learning edges and bravely looking inwards throughout their mindful year together on the Leadership Programme.

Mindful leadership really is about being, not doing. It is about looking inside and being very clear about who we are – in all our complexity, the light and shade – about embracing our whole self, about living a wholehearted, an authentic life in leadership.

Brené Brown challenges us as leaders to let go of the person we think we are supposed to be and embrace who we are, and her globally renowned research work on vulnerability and shame shows that as leaders we mustn’t be afraid of being vulnerable. She believes that “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.” [1]

In our leadership work, it is truly inspiring to see amazing people; stellar leaders take a brave journey into themselves, to investigate and explore how they can fully actualise their gifts, talents and passions to create and influence change, to make a difference – whether that is in their family, their social and cultural communities, or in public or private sector environments.

I recently came across the powerful work of Parker J Palmer [2] world-renowned writer, speaker and activist who focusses on issues in education, community, leadership, spirituality and social change. At the core of his work is the idea that the biggest challenge of modern society is the fact that humans live “divided” lives.

As children we are born truly whole – integral humans “with a seed of selfhood that contains the spiritual DNA of our uniqueness – an encoded birthright knowledge of who we are, why we are here, and how we are related to others... All of us arrive on earth with souls in perfect form. But from the moment of birth onward, the soul or true self is assailed by deforming forces from without and within: by racism, sexism, economic injustice, and other social cancers: by jealousy, resentment, self-doubt, fear and other demons of inner life.” [3]

So as we grow into adulthood, we divide ourselves – we learn to live with masks, different faces in the name of acceptability, so many of us are unable to show up us as our true, real selves, and we hide our inner life. Palmer believes that our deepest calling is to grow into our own authentic selfhood. If we achieve “wholeness’’ in adulthood, if we let our life speak, we will also find our path of authentic service in the world.

A key part of this personal work is to accept that wholeness does not mean perfection – it is about embracing all parts of us – the dark shadow and the light, our gifts and talents as well as the broken bits. If we can be vulnerable, be mindful, if we can look inside, to our deepest wisdom, we will have much more fulfilling lives, and be able to live with integrity, grace and purpose. 

This becomes so important in our leadership work. Leadership is everyone’s vocation – when we live in human ecosystems, communities - all of us lead and follow by our words and actions. We share responsibility for creating the external world:

“We can make choices about what we are going to project (light/dark, hope/despair, wholeness & integration vs diseased/divided world), and with those choices, we help grow the world that is. Consciousness precedes being: consciousness, yours and mine, can form, deform, or reform our world. Our complicity in world-making is a source of awesome and sometimes painful responsibility—and a source of profound hope for change. It is the ground of our common call to leadership, the truth that makes leaders of us all." [4]

If we want to re-imagine and create communities and societies of abundance – Palmer says we must enable people to come together in “circles of trust” – safe spaces for the soul - where people have a place to nurture personal and professional integrity and the courage to act on it. This is a critical part of what we create on our Leadership Programme and why we have developed a unique connectedness and authenticity of significant relationships across our nearly 400 Leadership NZ Programme Alumni.

The power of that can be seen in their collective commitment to being leaders for AotearoaNZ, in their deep understanding and appreciation of otherness (diversity), their enhanced ability to cross lines of difference, to hold and work with the tension of diverse views, and their increased sense of voice and agency to drive change and ultimately their leadership capacity to create real community and to shape a different future – to let their lives speak!

Despite the challenges of the times we live in, I remain ever optimistic that we can shape an exceptional leadership culture that develops and celebrates resilient, courageous, authentic leaders who: have a strong awareness of issues of significance for New Zealand; that value diversity, engage in meaningful conversation, connect and work successfully across difference; leaders that build and transform organisations, communities and effect positive social economic and cultural change across our society, and across the planet.

From our leadership whanau to yours, much alofa and appreciation for everything you do in your lives in leadership.  Thank you – each and every one of you - for being part of our mahi and purposeful work, for contributing to our vision to enrich AotearoaNZ through active leadership in connected communities. We wish you and your fanau a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year; a peaceful, joyful, relaxed summer. We hope you are able to replenish your energy, feed your soul, and enjoy the bountiful goodness that this wonderful land provides.

Manuia le Kirisimasi ma le Tausaga fou



CEO, Leadership New Zealand

[3] A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life (Jossey-Bass, 2004) Parker J Palmer

[4] Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation (Jossey-Bass, 1999) Parker J Palmer