Be. Leadership 2019: Session 1 - Leadership; What is it, and why me?

by Susan Rapley

Why me, indeed?

Why any of us?

To cut a medium length story short, it's because we want the world to be a better place.

What is that better place like? Could we imagine a better way of coming together and creating that place?

We, the 2019 Be. Leaders, were welcomed to the Be. Whānau with pōwhiri and mihi whakatau. In starting the journey together, we recognised the collective connection to Christchurch on the anniversary of the February earthquake. As we continued meeting, greeting and getting to work on day one, it became clear to all that this was a genuinely diverse group. Māori, Pasifika, Migrant and Pākehā, from all religious and cultural backgrounds, including people without religion.

We came together from different careers, experiences and strengths. One binding factor (and the lens through which we would view everything over the weekend) was accessibility. Fundamentally, access is about a physically accessible space. It grows to a much more complex system when your group starts negotiations on how to communicate…because so many access needs are communication based:

  • People need tools like screen readers, interpreters and fidget "toys" to aid communication
  • We need honesty about how we might communicate differently about things, or whether we have restricted access to information.
  • We need courage to share, be vulnerable and learn from things (and sometimes others) that (or who) challenge us.

By the end of day one we were getting to know each other and realise what was possible through the accessibility lens. We were also ready to celebrate and relax together. Social time – facilitated by our wonderful Sudima Hotel hosts – was broadly agreed to be both one of the most challenging and most valuable parts of our three days together.

Day two and it was down to the nitty gritty immediately. What values did we share? How do we behave and communicate as both large and small groups? As individuals? When are we at our best and worst? (Collectively we are learned we are at our best with food; biological needs like sleep; and chocolate; and at our worst when working during the post-lunch sluggish period – Chort in Farsi). Though at times we may have disagreed, we found a place to start: Authoritarian, white supremacist leadership scares the excrement out of us.

And we built from there. We formed a system of leadership that valued accessibility. A system that then built upon frameworks of bi-/multiculturalism, gender neutrality and compassion for all. While the old hierarchies were apparent in the room, we buffered, insulated and changed them with our various access needs.

Day two ended in exhaustion. One so complete even the night owls couldn’t sustain the troublemaking. Day three was to dawn with a new, revived energy, available right on time for an emotional rinsing before lunchtime.

In the breaking down, we found all the things we care about in common. The present and future of health, and mental health care. The environment, preventing wild climate change and sustainably feeding the world. We all want decent housing, accessible education spaces and most importantly: safety and trust. We all found gratitude for having been there, and for the access to these things we have currently. From the most outspoken to the quietest member, we found that most of us had personal goals related to finding our voice as leaders. Our facilitators did warn us they would break us down kindly and repair us stronger.

On that final day, we all felt stronger. Exhausted, but stronger. We finished the beginning of our leadership journey with hope.

Hope for what we might change in this year together. Hope that we might truly change the world for better.

As we head into session two "Society: What’s going on here?" we will again remember Christchurch. And we’ll keep trying to change the world for better.

As-salāmu 'alaykum (Peace be upon you)

He waka eke noa (We are all travelling together)

Manaakitanga (Everyone is welcome here)