Written by Graham Bodman, General Manager - Arts, Community and Events, Auckland Council
Retreat Six of The NZ Leadership Programme is where it all started coming together for me. Up until now I’ve been going with the flow, dipping my toes in occasionally, feeling slightly disconnected. Emotionally distant. An affirmation of my general worldview bar some jarring insights around race relations, white privilege and the distinction between ‘intent’ and ‘impact’. I feel different now.
Leonard Cohen’s Anthem comes to mind: don’t dwell on what has passed away, or what is yet to be ... there is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in. Depressingly upbeat. The master poet on his own leadership journey.
Anyway, there we were. Wellington. A week in late-winter. An office in Majestic Centre.
First up, the Rt. Hon Jim Bolger encouraged us to be prepared to lead. I’d been looking forward to this, pre-prepared questions at the ready around his late-life road to Damascus conversion from neo-liberal ideologue to seeming Labour Party apologist. The master politician swatted my amateurish attempt to eke out a contrite admission without even a blush; something along the lines of different times, different issues. I’m not so sure. I couldn’t help but be impressed with his 2019 perspective.
The two big issues of our time? Artificial intelligence (didn’t see that one coming) and ecological collapse. “The fear of change is more substantive than the reality.” That insight resonated with me, its simplicity belying a deeper truth that applies at work and at home. What am I afraid of? On leadership: don’t resile from bold decisions; you need a clear view of what you, as leader, want to achieve. On today’s society: inequality is a huge issue (still no blush); dump GDP as a measure of success and focus on the four well-beings; embrace diversity - it makes for a more interesting life!
Take a bow Jim, it was a thought-provoking discussion. I was inspired seeing a person in his 80s fully engaged with contemporary issues, contributing fully.
Next up, Berlinda Chin, Matalena Leaupepe and Elizabeth McNaughton discussing diversity, inclusion and driving culture change. My key insight was to be aware of and actively challenge my default biases. The conversation took me back to Dr. Matthew Farry’s Courageous Conversation About Race. Back to the white privilege debate. Academically, I totally get it, but I still have an element of internal resistance. That’s okay.
It was a timely reminder to wake up, take note, get uncomfortable and lead by example.
The final two days of the retreat resonated at a very personal level. This is where The NZ Leadership Programme journey started to come together for me.
It kicked off with our entrepreneur panel discussion with Mel Templeton, Liz Te Amo and Rebecca Smith. However, for me, Christian Penny really brought the whole retreat together, particularly feeding into my Leonard Cohen-esque state of mind. I loved his insights: set the bar at an adequate level (what a relief!); set aside judgement (including of self, a recurring theme); welcome, sit with and focus on difference and conflict.
I finished this retreat with a new resolve that has only intensified in the weeks following.
Did Graham’s story resonate with you? This is one of many purposeful and profound experiences on The NZ Leadership Programme. Are you a mid-career, senior executive or community leader in New Zealand who cares for the future of our nation? Do you know someone who does? We invite you to apply for our 2020 Programme - we’re accepting applications now!