Written by Sian Henderson
Wendy McGuinness, the founder of McGuinness Institute, finished her time at the Leadership NZ Programme with a much deeper understanding of New Zealand and its people. She was looking for ways to contribute towards NZ going forward and from the Programme, she got what she came for. “I felt we could do better than we were doing. That we needed to work harder to be a great country, working hard to understand our differences as well as commonalities.”
In 2004 Wendy started the McGuinness Institute, which is a think tank working towards a sustainable future for New Zealand. During this new phase, she was looking to reconnect. “I was consulting and relatively corporate, and I was looking to build a deeper understanding of New Zealand, so I could work out where I fitted and what I could do.”
“There was a lot of processes I learnt that I’ve further adopted going forward. In terms of skills; I learnt how to collaborate and develop discussion. The way in which you build narrative and bring it to an end.” Wendy expresses gratitude in learning the generosity of speakers that gave their time. The most important of all this new knowledge, however, was the realisation she was not alone. “There was a big cohort of New Zealanders wanting to bring about change.” In amongst these people were those Wendy originally wouldn’t have considered willing to help. It turns out though, that these people who’re achieving a great deal and are extremely busy, are still able to find time for a good cause. “So in going forward I don’t hesitate to ask people for help or advice. I don’t ask for me, but for the people I’m working with.” She continues “A little bit of someone’s time at the right time, can actually make a massive difference.”
Another really important process she expresses is finding a balance. “There’s enormous strength in using personal experience but it can also get in the way. It’s about knowing when to delve deeper and source fuel - such as anger, which is a great motivator. And knowing when to not be personal and think about what the community needs.” Trying to balance these is an ongoing skill that Leadership NZ provided her. All these processes, Wendy shares, have helped her curate workshops for outcomes and strive
Currently, she and her team are running a ‘tackling poverty tour.’ They’ve been through Manawatu, Rotorua, Gisborne, and soon the Far North, running one-day workshops with the communities. This is a perfect example of finding that balance. “The stories of poverty are horrendous but we have to move the conversation to ‘hows’. We have to use the skills and knowledge that are already in these local communities to bring about change.” She emphasises on how we must keep the focus on the goal. That together we have the skills and through relationships, we can find ways to resolve challenges.
“I see a whole lot of people wanting to bring about change but not knowing how, or that they’re an important part of the jigsaw puzzle, they just don’t know where to fit. What I’ve learnt is that perhaps my job is to pull those pieces together in a way that’s going forward.”
As our time draws to an end I ask Wendy for any words of advice for future leaders. “Lead by example. Personally, I think that means organisations to the community and New Zealand to the world. We are such a fortunate country in so many ways and we can shape the world by being the very best example we can be.” As we come to a close she leaves one last piece of advice ringing in my ears that is relevant to all of us as leaders of our own lives: “Be mindful that it’s okay we’re not perfect. The most important thing really is giving it a go.”