Written by Dylan Newbold, Area Manager, Kiwibank
We arrived for Session Four on what can only be described as a good day in Wellington. Slightly chilly and a little breezy, but I could stand up straight and it wasn’t really raining as I got out of my cab. A pretty good start to three days in the capital focussing on governance. Even though we’re only three sessions in, there’s no nervousness, as I already feel connected to the group that makes up both the class and the facilitators of 2017. Instead, I am looking forward to catching up on progress made, stories half told and uncovering new and different perspectives that being a part of such a diverse group of a broad range of industries and backgrounds brings. No matter what we’re discussing, for me, it is these people who bring the true value to my experience and the group is also the source of a lot of the lessons I can learn.
By now I’m pretty familiar with what to expect in the upcoming sessions and know better than to think I’ll be able to guess what the content might look like, or where the paths we might take as a group will lead our conversations, or even if we’ll stick to our topic at all. I know the title “Governance” will likely be a broad theme and that the group of people I’m taking this journey with will explore many more topics than this over the next three days, but for now all I have to go on is the session title, the anticipation of catching up with the group and the sense of dread that’s been nagging me ever since I saw we were spending Saturday at Toi Whakaari, New Zealand’s national drama school. Yes, all of Saturday. At acting class. This sounds like a perfect place for a bank manager to be… but I know I’ll miss a lot of the richness of this course is if I don’t tackle it head on, so in I go.
The first two days are full of great presenters, challenging content and most importantly very rich discussions. We explore the concepts of being aware of your blindspots, talk and think about governance and the factors that influence governance, to success or to failure, we unpack our thoughts on diversity and think about how we might apply what we’re exploring in our own lives and workplaces. As is the way at Leadership NZ, we have plenty of group discussions amongst the thirty or so of us then explore these topics in our smaller syndicate groups. Then we get the opportunity to evolve these in different, smaller groups of three called triads. What is interesting given these shifting group dynamics is how quickly we’ve all managed to discuss and evolve ideas instead of forming entrenched opinions. Leadership NZ is about taking differing views and weaving them into your own, which makes the conversations all the more engaging. The days go by in a flash and after watching the Chiefs thrash the ‘Canes I realise it’s here. Acting school tomorrow.
When we pull up to Toi Whakaari, I really have no idea what to expect. Based on my experience of the Programme, I can’t really rule much out either. This should be interesting. I wander into the building, steel myself with a strong coffee, drop my bags and wait for the clown costumes to show up… Fortunately though, the session is nothing like what I’d thought it might be like, besides reinforcing my view of how little I know about acting. From the first moments, Christian, the director of the school, captivates my attention with a mihi in the style of Toi Whakaari – true to protocol but translated and explained each step of the way. He then proceeds to explain performing arts from a unique perspective: describing actors as athletes who train away the feelings of self-consciousness and embarrassment. He links this masterfully to a work environment and really gets my head working. Unbelievably, acting class is where I’m doing most of my thinking about leadership this time round. Christian explains that what it means to be an artist is not about how you act, it’s about how the people watching you see you. The art is about understanding how you are perceived, not remembering your lines and that acting is for the audience, not the actor. A question pops up in my head that will take me weeks to digest – is my leadership about remembering my lines or is it about how my team perceive the actions I take? Christian then goes on to discuss that the best way to form understanding between and actor and their audience, or in fact any two groups of people is to understand the space the exists between the two parties, to occupy that space and to find comfort in it. My list of questions to explore in the coming weeks is growing faster than I thought it might just hours earlier.
After a few games of musical chairs, the day draws to a close with the reshuffling of the syndicate groups we were all just getting comfortable in and then we all head off back to our day jobs, each with a list of self-formed questions to mull over and some homework for the next session. The three days have literally vanished. I’ve come away excited, tired, interested and contemplative. Our next session in a month’s time, we’re told, is on primary industries. I’m not sure I want to wait that long!