#29 Be. Leadership September 2015 - Innovation and Leadership – Christchurch, a truly accessible city for the future

by Stephen Macartney

With innovation and leadership as the key themes, Christchurch was a great place to visit and for us to link with locals. It gave us an opportunity to consider the potential and possibilities of the city through its rebuild phase, and we engaged in this with most speakers and sessions over the two days.

Many of us took the opportunity to visit the city centre at some point. Visiting the city had an emotional impact on many.

The Sudima Hotel in Christchurch airport is going through its own rebuilding and transformation process. The conference room we used was only just finished by the painters the night before. The conference room next door to ours was alive to the sounds of banging, drilling and con-struction work.

On Friday morning the introduction was led by Martin who asked us questions about acts of kindness we had received and given over recent days, and planned to give during the session. On Saturday morning Steve reflected on his and his family’s personal experience during and after the two major quakes.

The three speakers for the sessions were from different sectors and areas of Christchurch, how-ever they all, in some way, increased our understanding through their personal stories about the impact of the quakes on themselves, their families and the people they worked with. The recognition of the host of opportunities and possibilities that can be found within Christchurch in spite of the damage of the quakes was a common thread throughout each of the speakers' sessions.

Lauren Merritt, Chief Awesome Officer of the Ministry of Awesome was our first speaker. In her presentation and Q and A session she explained how people in leadership roles such as hers had the intentional curiosity to go out to talk to people in their community, finding out about their priorities and their needs. This was important so she could link them to others within the community that they could network with.

I reflected that this way of working is important to me in the leadership roles that I work in. Collecting and connecting everyone's views is better than relying on the views of a few people or organisations.

I appreciated Lauren's reflections on her choices to work with people across the globe. I was also interested to see her growing sense of the importance of creating partnerships and collaborating with local people. I was surprised by her growing recognition that, "fighting the good fight" isn't always the best way to lead or help a community.

The work of Ministry of Awesome's role is to connect and collaborate with people around and across the city and this process was an obvious passion of Lauren's.

Andre Lovatt is the Chief Executive of the Christchurch Arts Centre. He shared his insight into the unique place that the centre holds in Christchurch as well the place of the arts in the city and wider community, both after the quakes and now in the rebuild phase.

Andre returned to Christchurch to take up the CE role, which was both similar and different to what he was doing before. He moved from a civil engineering and leadership role in Singapore to a leadership role within an engineering project within the arts sector. He identified the ongoing need to clarify his leadership role by listening to others and staying true to his values.

He is succeeding in many ways as a leader by being himself and having a comprehensive over-view of all that he manages and leads, without getting bogged down in detail. I wondered when he developed this style: as an engineer, through his work in Singapore, or working within the post-quake rebuild phase.

I was surprised that he was a civil engineer working in the creative arts field. I noted that he and Lauren also talked about the importance of remaining independent of the post-quake bureaucracies, but still working alongside central and local government when necessary.

The rebuild of the Arts Centre is a massive project in itself, not to mention the need to connect the wider community with the Centre's future in Christchurch.

Andre discussed with us the importance of accessibility within the rebuild, especially heritage projects. The Centre is now more focused on innovation and accessibility than before.

Margaret Jefferies, Chair of Project Lyttelton, spoke about its genesis and, like the other two speakers, how values are so important to the work she does and the people she works with.

Margaret gave us a brief history of the TimeBank that operates in Lyttelton, including its NZ-wide and global contexts and how it has grown to reflect the positive values of the community. Nearly a quarter (700) of Lyttelton's population of 3000 are linked through the TimeBank.

Margaret also explained why appreciative inquiry was important to her and to the way Project Lyttelton operates. Appreciative inquiry focuses on potential and possibility, not just problems. We later discussed the balance between being problem- or solution-focused and the process of recognising and realising opportunities.

All the speakers identified a need for both personal and organisational strategy within their leadership roles; to identify and maintain the values of an organisation, its people and projects; and to only intentionally link with other organisations or teams that share those values. Leadership in community projects emerges from conversations between people as early as possible and striving to maintain the communication throughout the process.

The final My Future talks were further evidence of the trust, authenticity and respect we have in each other as a group, as we discussed the potential and the possibilities open to us for the next five years.