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Leadership NZ Alumni Retreat: My Wholeness Prescription

by Mark Dunlop, Principal Consultant at M V Consultants Ltd

In preparing this reflection of the weekend with Alumni colleagues held in Wellington on 12 - 13 November, those that were present will know what I am talking about when I say that “I referred to my LoveNotes."

Lovenotes - A simple notebook made on recycled paper by some social entrepreneurs. Just a simple thing that makes a difference in many ways. For me on that weekend the place where I parked my insights, thoughts and notes of the two days as they progressed. 

Thanks Jennie Vickers for a Lovenote for all attendees.

Initially I was a little reticent in considering attending the Alumni retreat. There is so much 'doing' to do that sometimes I forget the value of 'being' that I just couldn’t see at the time. I am in that 'just turned 60' group and am dealing with several changes regarding career, retirement, empty nesting, Vicky finishing her masters, etc…

Well, I would have missed out on something really special and investing that time to ‘stop, to look back, to look forward’ again. Investing in me for a change. I was so thankful to my lovely Vicky for booking my place and telling me I was going. 

The two days began and flowed just as if the 30+ of us present had actually completed a year together on the Programme. The ability to engage, trust and be vulnerable with a group whose connection was solely that they too had, at some stage, with me or with others, completed the Leadership NZ journey of discovery and maintained ongoing engagement and various personal practice. Many reflected at how easy it was to just get into flow and the depth of conversation, meeting new friends and learning from the speakers, facilitators and other Alumni.

It was hosted at Toi Whakaari by Christian Penny (of our 2009 cohort) whose skill in setting the scene brought everyone quickly to the place where their Leadership NZ year had ended and where this weekend could take us individually and collectively with an open heart; fantastic set-up and preparation for what was to come. We all know that the Leadership NZ years are unique in their cohort and this time together provided us with a shared experience that was in some ways familiar and in some ways unique.

From the introduction we moved to experience some of the approaches now included in the Programme, with that personal leadership development aligned to the Leadership NZ 2016 theme of Mindful Leadership for the balance of the day facilitated by Louise Marra. I have so many reflections on the various steps through that morning and afternoon. Some quotes from others (with licence) and my own notes and thoughts include:

  • Being with myself so I can be with others;
  • Our outer peace comes from that inner peace and self-awareness;
  • We need to make space for the Me in our lives;
  • Who is my Truth teller?;
  • Stress results from undigested moments; and, 
  • How do I:
    • Walk in my world?
    • Be open to enquiry?
    • Dismantle the grip of ego?
    • Accumulate energy?

Some tools and techniques that we practiced were new for many, particularly working in the triad conversation groups. We were challenged to speak to some core questions that really go to the core of ‘Who-ness’:

  • My relationship with myself is... 
  • In my life I am wrestling with... 
  • I get tired when... 
  • What excites me is... 
  • I would love it if...

No response from the two buddies in the triad, until you had shared these reflections, then they could acknowledge, hear and see what had been said. This was a truly amazing experience in self-worth, even for those who were familiar with the triad conversation.

We moved on:

  • Practice saying 'no';
  • Develop an awareness of the leadership paradoxes and literacies e.g.
    • Be – Do
    • Structure – Freedom
    • Belong – Become
    • Feel – Host
    • Plan – Prototype
  • Where am I and others at, what do I and we bring, how do I/we share that;
  • What are we constantly doing to update self; and,
  • Working with understanding the power of voice. If you bring it to the room, you change the room, if you hold back, you hold others back from that opportunity.

I was reflecting then on a discussion that Vicky and I had shared on Imposter Syndrome, something that has heightened in awareness through sharing her research and learning through her current studies and thesis. Listen to that Inner Coach to manage the Inner Critic and share your voice. Otherwise the only one who has the benefit of you and the gifts that you can share is you…

We then did some more work on our view of the World, inner culture and relationship maps. Louise introduced us to a 'self-stock-take' process where we could assess our inner culture against a range of attributes – something I intend to repeat through this life’s journey as I approach these next milestones. It has already been really helpful in being at ease, despite the external and internal tensions of change. I loved the idea of addressing those questions of: What are the ‘Ways to be’? Where do I lead from? Why should anyone be led by me?

Finally we worked through considering and developing a personal tool-kit as ‘anchors’. Each reflecting on where these would assist in that journey of finding and sharing the authentic self from which others too gain that permission to be who they can be. A simple discipline I am working on is to “Practice not having a problem, and not having a problem with problems”. The workshop ended with each of us developing a personal Wholeness Prescription. 

The day ended with Alumni sharing examples of project work and opportunities that others present might be able to contribute to or be interested in and a shared dinner, with the usual depth of Leadership NZ discovery and conversation.

Day Two reflections resonated primarily from individual insight gained from the presentations made by the excellent six speakers. Thanks to the organising team of Wellington based Alumni who put this group, and the whole weekend arrangements together.

The first two speakers were Lt Col Terry McDonald from the RNZ Army and Gabe Davidson from the Wellington Chocolate Factory. While the stories and challenges are in different context their observations on leadership were to me very similar.

From Terry:

Tremendous sense of honour, self-awareness and coping with emergent situations through galvanising the potential and capability of their teams. Interesting to reflect on the recruitment and retention challenges facing militaries and how to develop that challenge from the ranks to provide the collective insight, yet retain the absolute command requirements in specific military situations. 

Key quote for me was: Look past the uniform to the person and people that serve. I am proud of what our military do, particularly evident in these last few weeks of Earthquake civilian support and the 75 year celebration of the RNZ Navy.

From Gabe:

He reinforced the sense that anything is possible, if you don’t want everything. The Bougainville story was inspirational – oh and the chocolate tasted delicious! I loved the notion that his team has skills beyond their Role definition, that they bring to the business – the photographer, the graphic designer, the web guru, etc. - all contributing beyond the operational outputs to the wholeness of their engagement and potential.

We then were fortunate to be addressed by Dr Mary Quinn (former CEO at Callaghan Institute) and Lindas Jones (from Z Energy).

From Mary:

Her success in her career and challenges of her life journey she attributed to a few key things. Speak-up (imposter syndrome holds us back if we let it). Share your ideas and act on them. Be confident in interpretation and being Right isn’t enough. There were some interesting insights for me too, in the challenges a woman in leadership faces in pushing through what many describe as the glass ceiling.

From Lindas:

While his talk was really interesting and contained many gems, there is one particular theme that continues to resonate with me and I am working at practicing every day.

Don’t leave your effectiveness as a leader to someone else. 

You are 100% responsible for the outcomes in your world, so stand there! Your integrity is what you do when no-one else is looking; its your word, and constantly asking whether you are being true to yourself.”

The final group of presenters included Wendy McGuinness (an Alumni and founder of the McGuinness Institute) and Professor Gary Merham (Open Polytechnic).

From Wendy:

Her work in understanding and providing evidence based insight to social issues impacting on our country was just inspirational. I really respect her energy, passion and commitment portrayed in the examples and approach she has taken to establishing this valued input to the future of New Zealand. Again there were many gems in her presentation and themes for reflection on our own leadership. I was particularly challenged by some of her insights regarding the development of youth, “We raise children until they are 18 and then judge them as if they are 25. How do we nuture, learn and engage with them through those gap years?” 

Her work across New Zealand in identifying the incidence of poverty and development of a white paper as an input for critical decision makers opens one’s eyes to the possibilities of enabling the potential within this marginalised group of our society.

From Gary:

He shared his story of working as a lecturer in Africa, meeting Nelson Mandela and his life’s journey, including his passion for surfing. Among other elements of this wide ranging discussion, he reflected on how we all need an antidote for work and for him it is the Sea, his great leveller. A clear reminder for me and I suspect others present that being mindful requires that self awareness and discipline to retain the balance.

So, to end the weekend it was the normal closure and commitments session from all participants. 

Completing this summary and sharing my insights was one of my undertakings. I wanted to include some of the content elements to share with those unable to be with your colleagues, so that maybe you too could reflect on some of what we experienced. I trust it has opened that possibility. 

Above all I have in these last three weeks embraced a Wholeness Prescription for Me. It is making a difference in tangible ways and I am increasingly trusting in what will be, influenced by being open to what presents itself.

I have been to the three Alumni retreats and find them an incredible refresh. The Russian’s have the expression: “Poustina”. The primary meaning is the desert. The secondary meaning is the place I go to, to stop, to look back, so to look forward. Attending this Alumni retreat has again provided that “Poustina” experience. I look forward to seeing as many as can make it to the next one.

Kia Kaha