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The Journey - Framing and Tooling Up

Written by Eoghan Walsh, Development Consultant, Simulating Experience

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Leadership is not an easy thing to define. So you would expect that would be the place to start for a leadership programme that runs as eight retreats over the course of a year. But expecting Leadership NZ to follow the usual path sets you up for a succession of surprises.

We convened at a hotel north of Auckland on a Thursday morning – some of us based in Wellington had met up and travelled together from the airport the night before. After coffee and some mingling, there was a formal welcome from the Board and staff of Leadership NZ and a mihi whakatau at the start of the first three-day retreat.

You could sense a certain amount of trepidation among the group – this is the norm for a group of strangers coming together for the first time, but there was also a fair amount of uncertainty about the programme we were embarking on – just what had we got ourselves into?

The other factor was putting 35 people who consider themselves potential leaders – so mostly A-type personalities – together in a room: surely a recipe for competition and conflict. Well, don’t expect the norm. The facilitators of the Programme capitalised on the good-will within the group and used a succession of simple exercises to introduce ourselves to each other, little by little, in progressively more challenging ways. This had the benefit of learning and reinforcing the names and backgrounds of a fairly large group, as well as getting a feel for the manner of each of our fellow travellers. Nervous laughter quickly turned to more genuine humour, as the first minor errors developed into more witty quips and observations.

However, even with all these aids, 35 is still a big group of people to interact with. The Programme is structured around smaller groups of six to discuss topics, make decisions or take on certain functions. In addition, there are small groups of three, where you can get down to some serious chatting over coffee and cookies.

Each of the three days contained a mix of activities: some funny and playful to keep the energy flowing, others fairly deep and heavy, some practical about how the Programme works, some tricks and tips about managing our personal development and staying sane and healthy in a world with increasing demands and distractions. We quickly learned some waiata, which also kept the energy flowing, and was a good counterbalance to some of the more intense sessions. Also, there were a number of speakers – all entertaining, interesting and energetic, and each with their own view of the world.

There is a strong focus on peer learning, and the group of people participating comes from a wide range of backgrounds: corporate accountants, community youth leaders, civil servants and self-employed, Maori, Pasifika and Pakeha and more recent immigrants all pooling their talents, perspectives and humour. I feel the depth and breadth of the group will provide a major contribution to my understanding of what leadership is, and how I can develop my own skills.

I normally dread the “break into groups and discuss” moments, and often feel silly following a facilitator’s contrived “energiser”. But in this context I did not: the enthusiasm, commitment and professionalism of the {rogramme facilitators, (combined with them not taking themselves to seriously) allowed me to relax into the group, and quickly develop some trust and commonality with my fellows.

So did I ever get my watertight definition of leadership? No. But I did come to understand that individuals need to nurture and develop a number of personal traits and abilities if they are going to be successful leaders: self-knowledge, empathy, resilience, courage, humility, vision and more. And I started acquiring some tools and techniques to know and develop myself.

This Programme is not for everyone – you cannot be a passenger on this and expect to come away with much. If you engage with it and invest the time and energy to challenge yourself, I expect as an individual there is a lot to be gained from this. How you use those new, or better developed, skills is up to you, together with the network of great people you will become connected to through Leadership NZ.