#14 Be. Leadership November 2013 - Last words for 2013

by Sean Winterbottom

The final retreat for the Be. Leadership Programme 2013 was aptly titled the Change: New Zealand on the World Stage. This theme was a wonderful way to wrap up a brilliant and inspiring year on the programme. Throughout the year, we've discussed our potential as leaders, what it means to be a good and effective leader, and the strengths and weaknesses of individual leadership styles. By the last weekend retreat of 2013, I imagine that all of us were ready to take our places on the world stage!

Over the course of the weekend, the thinking that had developed over the year - the ideas, the concepts, the moments of clarity - started to come together. I started to feel like I had something to offer, that I could make a difference, that I was, indeed, a leader. Looking around at my colleagues, I saw the same realisation.

The initial speakers for the weekend were a perfect start. Mike Chunn, New Zealand creative luminary, arrived, at ease, dressed all in white. His manner was engaging, relaxed, interesting and interested in us. His passion for creativity - be it music or thinking - shone through. He entertained us, and our minds. He challenged us to think creatively, be brave, and to challenge perceptions. He even promised to compose a theme song for Be. Leadership (set to Greg's brilliantly creative lyrics, of course!) - and delivered. Listen to the theme song for Be. Leadership.

Dr Oliver Hartwich, Executive Director of the New Zealand Initiative, complemented Mike's international outlook, with his own experiences of Germany, Britain, Australia and New Zealand. He engaged us with his personal story of long-distance intercultural love and learning, and guided us to his passion - social justice and policy reform. Rather than seeing himself as a leader, Dr. Hartwich emphasised the need to be knowledgeable, to understand what you're discussing and present that knowledge in a way that others can recognise, comprehend and take towards action. Be Leaders in session November 2013Dr. Hartwich did his bit for international relations by dispelling the myth of the humourless German!

By this point, we all needed a cuppa and a lie down. Being inspired and inspirational is hard work (so we went to the pub for steak, beer and really good conversation!).

The following day, we reconvened, refreshed and not at all hungover. Tania Thomas, the Head of the Families Commission, started the day with a very personal and open account of herself and her own leadership style. She discussed leadership as an emotional connection, rather than simply a role or a job. She talked about making tough decisions, considering the greater good and the toll that can take on an individual. She showed us that leadership is about having clarity of purpose and a human touch. Tania was engaging, open, honest and inspiring.

In the afternoon workshop, we all considered what we had achieved on the Be. Leadership Programme this year, as well as what we might achieve on the world stage. These workshops focused and made real what had slowly seeped into our consciousnesses over the year - that we are leaders, that we have much to offer, and much to achieve.

Our last speaker for the day was the indomitable Stephen Gianni. Having retrieved him from the bar, where the good Australian was relaxing into a boutique dark ale, we were captivated and engaged by his passion and his knowledge. His open, frank and enjoyable manner made the hour pass so quickly that I, for one, forgot to take any notes! He imparted knowledge with ease; sharing his expertise in policy, his personal and professional bravery and his willingness to seek change and to see change as a positive opportunity.

Our final guest speaker for the retreat and for the year was Minnie Baragwanath. This was the second time Minnie had spoken to us: she had been one of the speakers on our very first retreat. She treated us as equals and shared what was happening in the world of Be. in a very open way, as she had at our first meeting. However, this time I believe that we felt, as a group, far more able to contribute to the conversation, to utilise our skills, knowledge and ability in order to work with her and with Be.

As I was leaving the building at the end of the session, I found myself in the lift with one of the Programme Directors, Lesley Slade. I lamented to her that, just as it was all over, I was beginning to feel as if I had really got the hang of it and had something to actually contribute. Lesley turned to me with a smile, and said "Surely, Sean, that is rather the point!".

What a brilliant way, to end a life-changing year.