#16 Be. Leadership April 2014 - Our Diversity: What units and divides us ... and everything in between

by Cate Grace

The month rolled around so fast! It didn't seem like four weeks had passed as we headed to Wellington for our second time together. The anticipation was less than our initial retreat in March, as we arrived from all around NZ at the Kelburn campus of Victoria University. The smiles were more familiar and the room had a wonderful energy — it was light with a view of forest trees surrounding Wellington Harbour.

Our syndicates, which we formed in March — Fruit Bursts, Fusion and HumBility — chatted away like old friends. Fruit Bursts opened the day with the sounds of a Tibetan bowl and an Irish blessing, a fitting beginning to our topic, "Our Diversity — What unites and divides us…and everything in between." We were about to be challenged to think about how we polarise diversity and how we could use the space in between to create common dialogue.

Our first session was with Kim Workman, Founder & Strategic Adviser of Rethinking Crime & Punishment. His topic was, "Why won't you change your mind? Changing public attitudes to crime and punishment." Kim opened by making us realise immediately that, without a shift in mindset, social change will not happen. He took us on a journey from his early days in the NZ Police, through the crime and punishment reforms of 1985 and 1990, to his present day work as a consultant. We were introduced to ideas of extrinsic and intrinsic values and how they might be formed. He touched on ideas of social reform and awakened a sense that change is coming — in our lifetime — in the areas of global warming, elderly and disability, and mass imprisonment.

After a short interlude due to a fire alarm, we returned to conclude the Q&A session with Kim, who wove even more thoughts for us to ponder, encompassing avoiding compassion fatigue, legitimisation and acceptance within communities, engaging people to influence change, and being open to explore and embrace our own comfort zones in implementing social change. It was a wonderful start to our second time together.

Lunch was prepared by the ever-talented Michelle and Sam, and it was lovely to chat amongst ourselves about the preceding month. Then a quick dash for coffee and we were ready to start the afternoon session.

Be Leadership April 2014 Retreat

Tania Thomas, Director of the Centre for Family & Whānau Knowledge at the Families Commission, was our next speaker. Her topic was "Knowledge in action – making good things happen." What a great session to explore how our own group diversity was both united and divided.

Tania opened challenging us to be responsible as change agents. She introduced us to the idea of civil society, asking us to reflect about it in our syndicates. We all used the word "collaboration" in our answers, which sparked new divides as we learned that collaboration may not be the key. Tania proposed a model of civil society as the intersection of the private sector, government and citizens. Her model required government to realise that those working in the area of civil society are closest to the people, which is an important place of influence. She reflected that, currently, many NZ NGO's have high passion about the work they are doing, but few statistics and therefore low proof of need. She encouraged more research and evaluation to create evidence to back requests for Government funding.

Tania then introduced the term "collective impact," which lay behind her department's mission to create more evidence to support fundraising. This sparked debate amongst the group. It was enlightening to watch such a small cross section of society in one room with many differing viewpoints. I noticed how comfortable I felt being challenged and felt an awareness that I was in the right place at the right time. I was intrigued to see us, in syndicates and in the wider group, work together to create common dialogue and find mutual respect, despite our differences.

Congratulations to Fruit Burst who hosted and chaired our first day wonderfully and very naturally, even despite the unexpected fire alarms, technology hiccups and some very thought provoking conversation! We all seemed to leave with a great sense of energy and anticipation for the next day. Great effort!

That night we headed out to Cuba Street for an evening of fun, food and great conversation. It was wonderful to be amongst like minds. Returning to the hotel, I realised how I had hardly noticed the crowd around us because I was so engaged with my fellow Be. Leadership delegates. It was a great night.

On Day Two it was our syndicate's turn to host and chair. Josh opened with a reading and I chaired our third and final speaker, Philip Patston. What an honour to have Philip with a different hat on. It was more formal than I had expected but, as this was only our second month together, I wanted to acknowledge Philip in his role as speaker. I felt the responsibility to ensure he was treated with the same dignity and respect given our other speakers.

Be Leadership April 2014 Retreat

Being in front of the group in the role of Chair gave me a completely different perspective on our group dynamics. It was a pleasure to lead in an environment of diversity, uncertainty and complexity. Even though I had researched Philip — and gathered statements from those close to him — his topic, "Leadership thinking: it's not outside the box – it's about the box," was new, thought-provoking and valuable. The whole session validated my current position that I am happily challenged and am feeling enlightened when confronted with ideas that may not currently be in my filtering system or worldview.

I was so pleased Philip provided notes as I missed a lot of the content, focussing on the group, time and ensuring the session flowed. My own thoughts kept shooting off and, as I pulled myself back, I realised we were onto a new point. I began to feel under enormous pressure as the body language of our group changed when Philip appeared to push some buttons for the group. The passion was high and I felt compelled to ensure everyone got their say.

I was fascinated that I enjoy debate and hearing different viewpoints, but when charged with being Chair, I struggled. I began to reflect that this may be because of our diversity and the struggle to form questions that each group was happy with. I am still thinking about many aspects of it — Philip's content, being Chair and the role of leadership in a diverse, uncertain and complex environment.

Another great lunch and the final session of the day began with a sociogram, where we all shared our current thoughts and feelings and found a place in the room to represent them. Definitely art, not science and intriguing to say the least! Following this we participated in a workshop led by Lesley and Philip on models of group dynamics. It was fascinating for me to see our individual, syndicate and wider group dynamics and unique personalities reflecting our diversity. We were continually pushed out of our comfort zones and, for me, it was a refreshing space.

I am definitely in a phase of inquisitive curiosity and reflection. I believe that in a year’s time it will all make sense and I will have grown so much from this model of learning. I spent most of my flight to Christchurch pondering my diversity and what unites and divided us and everything in between. Thanks team! Bring on May! I am certainly looking forward to our next session with eager anticipation.

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