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We hold events for our alumni, friends, and the general public for people to connect with the important conversations in leadership.

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.

A Reflection on Dinner with a Difference 2017

by David Gandar, Project Manager, Business Manager, Facilitator

I've had the pleasure of being hosted by Sina Wendt-Moore for two dinner events. She is such a great inclusive hostess, she puts everyone at ease. Something warm fills the room when she speaks. And, playing the theme, what better person to portray integrative leadership? Blending cultures, experiences effortlessly, always a touch of humour lurking.

An evening of integrative leadership? Sounds a bit Harvard MBA to me - I'd rather call it Leadership that Embraces, perhaps Huggy Leadership, but that probably doesn't fit the professional code we silently comply with. 

Right from the pre-dinner networking, we got a taste of how different DWD2017 would be. The Maori welcome, spoken in such fluent Maori, and with highlights-only translated afterwards for the Pakeha guests like me to get the gist. It's not unusual these days especially on campus, but I’ve come to feel uniquely honoured by this ritual, feel properly welcomed. Then came the invitation, emanating from a voice bouncing off the ceiling, a stern-enough voice although a Kiwi twang and not quite heavenly. We were invited to choose a side of the room, to plumb for People first, or Planet. The invitation became exhortation as the undecided took their time to make a choice, with a commentary about whether they were deciding who to be with, see who went where and what numbers? It was a roughly equal split actually, perhaps a few more on the people side. That got us kicked off chatting about why we chose.

That introduced the evening’s leadership theme - how to integrate differing or opposing perspectives. How to be in the shoes of another's view of the issue.  And how to include others, really include, became an ending theme for the evening.

The highlights - apart from the superb AUT dinner as last year, excellently & efficiently served too...

  • Jess Holly Bates, actor, who took us on a journey into body code language, using her own examples artfully taking on the persona of various accents as she explored the stereotypes behind the code mask. Actor maybe, but such a warm human delivery we felt it from the heart.
  • Dave Wild, facilitator, workshop leader & atrium spirit voice, who invited us to try new codes, to get empathy for the different people described by a persona card deck so that each guest adopted a persona different from the one they arrived in. That got the table talking to each other from very different perspectives and challenged us to think about another’s circumstances by placing ourselves in them. Followed by the challenge to say how we would help people in Aotearoa feel like they belonged, from our adopted persona.
  • Towards the close he got us up into a room circle, inviting responses from the floor as he called out names from the deck. Some of us put on a good show too, playing the role of our code switch.

It was for me a nice surprise to be seated with two friends I hadn’t seen for a while, we re-bonded. Friends from other walks... like my Borneo rainforest buddy, we'd been on an expedition together.

Some insights for me -

  • The value of diversity, seeking others' experience and looking to align with what's common rather than see differences
  • leadership as a calling, fuelled by purpose, not method - anyone can lead if they're motivated to call others to join in
  • seeing how to embrace two or more perspectives & bring everyone along, so simple really

The question "How might we help all people in Aotearoa feel like they belong?” was a nice way to steer us toward the evening conclusion.

The evening comprised not simply conversation starters or dinner party games - well thought out activities by people very used to getting a roomful of people (192) up on their feet, interacting, getting engaged with the each other and loosening up. In fact letting go became a kind of sub theme, how to step into another code view. E.g, the well educated highly competent migrant who survived in NZ by driving a taxi for a living. The rest of us were invited to think how we could help him feel like he belonged. Then the LGBT Millennial with a firm grip on topical social issues, the various types of bias most of us don’t see.  Or the 2nd generation foreign national who regularly struggled with being accepted as a dinkum Kiwi, having to straddle two cultures and despite being a born Kiwi was treated differently, daily.

So I take my hat off to the Leadership NZ team for their ability to make us feel as if we all belonged, to a good cause, to each other, to a larger and more diverse community. Dinner with what difference? The whole evening flowed, some wine of course, and much laughter too - it was more intimate, more challenging, more insightful and gave each of us opportunity to stretch our usual polite comfort zone.

A chance to walk in someone else’s shoes, see another’s reflection in the mirror. And see people, fellow guests, try out new ideas, like improv, great fun.