by Grant Bunting, Chief Executive Officer, Seedlands Ltd, Grainstore Ltd, Farmers Mill Ltd
I had the privilege of participating in the Leadership NZ Programme back in 2009 and subsequently served as a trustee for a period of time thereafter.
The experience, as for many I suspect, was challenging and to be expected given the Programme seeks participants that offer diversity. However, the reward exists only for those prepared to engage and contribute.
I look back on my time with Leadership NZ not so much in terms of what I may have done since but more so with regards to that point in time where I went from observer to participant. In doing so I gained an insight and awareness that I’d never had before.
I vividly recall the opening weekend of the 2009 Programme held at the Parnell Rose Gardens.
I had by this time ‘in life’ completed my education, undertaken the inevitable OE and was entering middle age whilst navigating the challenges presented by a young family and balancing professional and personal goals. In essence, I was content, confident and considered myself comfortably informed.
By the end of that first weekend, we had covered matters relating to race, religion, politics and sex, all in the context of wider New Zealand. Topics which in part or full I had successfully managed to ignore, dismiss or formed a view consistent with the mass rhetoric presented by way of mainstream media.
To be confronted so quickly with a range of such conflicting views and interpretations on topics in which I was largely uninformed took me well outside my comfort zone. After all I was a middle aged, middle class, white, Anglo-Saxon male from a close-knit Southland family that enjoyed rugby, hunting and fishing – I had no idea what I should think about ‘the treaty,’ racial or sexual discrimination, and why would I care about community issues outside those relevant to my own family?
Early on the first day the facilitator held up a picture and whilst others could see so much by way of the image, all I could see was two lines and a circle. I was uncomfortable at best, and beginning to question the relevance of my being involved. Furthermore, the almost spiritual sense of purpose that existed in some other participants as they introduced themselves was increasingly daunting, not to mention that I was still trying to figure out what was a ‘whakapapa’?
One speaker on the first day looked to be interesting and offered some hope. Pat Snedden was Martin Snedden’s brother and Martin played cricket for New Zealand. I could relate to Cricket. In hindsight, I’m not sure we even covered cricket? All I was left thinking was “How could I not know about the occupation of Bastion Point?” The more I learnt, the more I wanted to know and the less conscious I was of the environment. As the discussion evolved, and with it a sense of knowledge, the more confident I felt and the more engaged I became. Questions resulted in answers, which in turn gave way to an opinion. An opinion not based purely on that of others but one I had developed myself and one I felt comfortable to defend, challenge and at times even change.
I consider myself fortunate to have had the opportunity to enjoy the Leadership NZ experience. I’m not sure what would have happened in my case had one of the speakers not been Pat Snedden? It would have been quite easy to say to myself “You don’t need to be here, these people aren’t like you.” But I’m glad I didn’t, and in turn, I came to both understand and enjoy the concept of the ‘courageous conversation,’ or more simply put, the ability to discuss those often taboo or ‘too hard’ subjects with respect and an awareness gained from the insights of others.
In closing, the true value of the conversation can only come if others are willing to engage and as the year evolved, so did friendships and relationships with people whose paths I would never have crossed. I miss those days.
Where am I now? Still in the outskirts of Christchurch, and still in the primary industry. Winter Saturdays still revolve around rugby, albeit now that of my son, and the months are interspersed with hunting and fishing trips.
The ‘courageous conversations’ still occur, perhaps not always with the finesse required but they happen all the same.
I still remember the meaning of whakapapa but the image in question still looks like two lines and a circle!