by Kathy Stirrat, Programme Operations Lead, Transformation Programme at ACC.
As I was pondering about what to write and flicking back through my journal, I came across the Henry David Thoreau quote – “Be yourself. Not your idea of what you think someone else’s idea of yourself should be”. And I think that sums up my take out message from our seventh session together.
Held in Wellington, the capital of New Zealand, the seat of our Government and home to Parliament, my initial expectations of what our session might cover were somewhat different to the reality. Yes there was a focus on central government and governance, ably provided by the Deputy Chief of Army, Brigadier Chris Parsons. His pragmatic and down to earth presentation on governance and strategic leadership didn't mask the power this man has clearly held in active service and the command he would have over his troops when required. I think Chris helped many of us to see the Army in a new light and to better understand the value of bureaucracy in upholding democracy.
Local government also had a focus through Wellington mayor Celia Wade-Brown’s reflection on her six years in chains and some of the lessons learned during this time. She was unassuming and insightful, no matter what your political persuasion.
Then we were off, leaving the corporate and governance world behind and heading off to an old garage in Rongotai where we joined the Strike Percussion boys and formed an instant drumming band with 35 plus participants. In very short order, Murray, through his finely tuned leadership skills orchestrated our individualised cacophony of noise into a harmonious musical composition. We all loved the chance to let loose on the drums but when we worked together, watching Murray and listening for each other, we created something much more powerful.
And then with the noise still ringing in our ears and accompanied by the competition of planes taking off and landing at the airport next door, our hearts were moved again as we listened to the beautiful and deeply moving stories from some in our group. As always, it was such a privilege for us all to get a more in-depth glimpse into the lives of our cohorts and to better understand them and what has shaped each of them.
Day two was another change of venue, this time at Toi Whakaari, the National Drama School where Penny Fitt, Teina and NgaPaki Moetara and Adam Cooper helped us to better understand ourselves and our view of diversity. They asked probing questions of us – how conscious are we of working with diversity in our jobs, how do we see the power we have, and how does this compare to how we would have responded to this question at the beginning of the year? And what will we be working on in the future – ourselves, our organisations or nationally/globally? We began to see that diversity is not just based on gender, age, sexual orientation, ethnicity or any of the other usual demographic measures but that each of us and every person is unique and diverse in our experiences of life. Teina reminded us, it’s OK to sit in ambiguity while we connect with our personal power and then connect that with what our outward expression will be to the world around us.
These questions sat within us as we listened to our amazing panel of women – Mele Wendt, Teresa Tepania-Ashton (Alumna 2006) and Suzanne Snively. Each of them impressive in their own ways as they shared their experience of diversity in leadership and challenged us to think what our response should be.
Then on to our final session with Louise who reminded us we meet diversity every time we meet another person. We began to explore concepts from the day before, of knowing our personal power and the impact we have on others – are we truly grounded, or are we overpowered, underpowered, flee from power or transfer our power? Louise encouraged us to connect with our inner core and then to explore owning who we are, and loving ourselves. As we understand and connect with who we are, this expands our capacity to embrace diversity. I feel we have only just begun to explore this and hope the following sessions will also focus on our own personal power and how we can change the neural pathways of a lifetime in how we use our personal power where necessary.
This session was gritty, sometimes challenging, raw and intense as we grappled with our own response to our individual power, our group dynamics and our relationships with each other. It was a practical experience of our diversity in action as we moved from structure to chaos and part way back again. I’m sure in time we’ll look back on this session as a shaper and a strengthening of our own personal need to connect with ourselves and carefully use the personal power we have and will cement the bonds between us from our shared year together.