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The Journey - Framing and Tooling Up

written by Anya Satyanand, Executive Officer, Ara Taiohi

Anya Satyanand.jpg

A group of strangers converge under a hot February sky for the first Leadership NZ retreat, full of hope and uncertainty. Collectively we hold our breath through pōwhiri and blessing. Welcomed, challenged, inspired, we find ourselves reconfigured in groups large and small; questions are posed and answered which fast track us into relationship with one another. We hold others’ gazes, we slowly crack open.

I know I’m not alone in the age of Trump struggling with the idea of leadership. Global newsfeeds connect leadership with tycoons and presidents, with streaming capes, superpowers, and a loud and self-interested view of what it takes to change the world. This paradigm of leadership feels very far from my experience and my values. And so I walked into the first retreat with questions about the approach that will be taken over the course of this year by Leadership NZ: Pūmanawa Kaiārahi O Aotearoa, literally the beating heart of leadership in Aotearoa.

Somewhere on day one, I arrived at the gentle realisation that this year won’t be characterised by asteroid strikes and underpants on the outside. Leadership here won’t talk loudly of itself, for its own sake. The messages we receive about leadership won’t be framed through the language of business or management. Instead, we spent three days deepening our understandings of how the connections and relationships that we build sustain each of us in our work. Sliced this way, leadership is love. I feel like I’m waking up - I’ve not thought about leadership in this way. We learn about shadow integration, healthy practices, and congruence.

In our welcome Sina introduced the kaupapa of this year’s leadership Programme. We’re spending the year inquiring into “Awakened Leadership for the Future of Work”. As an enthusiastic consumer of speculative fiction and a committed imaginer of what’s next, I’m all about the future, and I love the idea of ‘woke’ leadership: leadership that pushes toward social justice and a more peaceful, inclusive and participatory Aotearoa. Without privileging the importance of the economy over communities and democracy, how well we rise to the economic challenges ahead and build a hopeful future of work will define the wellbeing of our communities and democracy in the future. The 2018 Leadership NZ cohort’s work intersects in incredibly diverse ways with this theme. We have people working in artificial intelligence, governance, social innovation and insurance - we span the diversity of the public, private and community sectors. What I loved about the first retreat was understanding the common ground and shared aspirations for Aotearoa that connect us all in our lives and work.

Through 72 hours of storytelling, listening, zooming in and out with ourselves and each other, laughing, writing poems, talking in the dark, sneaking off for swims and jumping off logs, I realise that our cohort has been carefully curated by Leadership NZ and brought together because in our diversity we each have something profound to contribute to each other’s learning. On the first retreat, we’ve taken a huge leap of faith toward each other, held in the generous, safe and brave space opened and held by Louise and the Leadership NZ crew. Every one of us has been supported to take this leap by our families and organisations. It is a privilege to be part of Leadership NZ 2018 and I feel humbled and grateful to be part of such an amazing group of people, on a big journey.

On soft earth, under a hot sky
We watched a spool of thread unfurl
Casting hopeful patterns
Catching us up, eager, into a larger tangle
Behind our circle unseen
Stretch webs of fibres
Tugging at shoulders, vibrating in pockets
Insistent but set to silent for three big days
A thousand tiny ropes securing us at once
In place in a new circle,
And all our old ones
Fish hooks, golden threads
Like Gulliver,
Incomprehensibly large and caught
Like Maui, casting a precious hook
With a trickster’s trust
That whatever we surface, we’ll be able to handle
Let us cast out lines
With firm feet
Into the depths
In the hope
That the ripples
We make
Will create waves
Beyond
Change simply in ourselves.